Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Ultimate Other

There are a lot of interesting points in this comparison of Christianity and Judaism by Peter Kreeft, including:

... Rarely did a few gentiles like Socrates and Akenaton ever reach to the heights and simplicity of monotheism. A world of many forces seemed to most pagans to point to many gods. A world of good and evil seemed to indicate good and evil gods. Polytheism seems eminently reasonable; in fact, I wonder why it is not much more popular today.

There are only two possible explanations for the Jews' unique idea of a single, all-powerful and all-good God: Either they were the most brilliant philosophers in the world, or else they were “the Chosen People” — i.e., God told them. The latter explanation, which is their traditional claim, is just the opposite of arrogant. It is the humblest possible interpretation of the data.

Kreeft continues:

The so-called “creation myths” of other religions are really only formation myths, for their gods always fashion the world out of some pre-existing stuff, some primal glop the gods were stuck with and on which you can blame things: matter, fate, darkness, etc. But a Jew can't blame evil on matter, for God created it; nor on God, since He is all-good. The idea of human free will, therefore, as the only possible origin of evil, is correlative to the idea of creation.

The Hebrew word “to create” (bara) is used only three times in the Genesis account: for the creation of the universe (1:1), life (1:21) and man (1:27). Everything else was not “created” (out of nothing) but “formed” (out of something).

The consequences of the idea of creation are immense. A world created by God is real, not a dream either of God or of man. And that world is rational. Finally, it is good. Christianity is a realistic, rational and world-affirming religion, rather than a mythical, mystical, or world-denying religion because of its Jewish source.

The essence of Judaism, which is above all a practical religion, is the Law. The Law binds the human will to the divine will. For the God of the Jews is not just a Being or a Force, or even just a Mind, but a Will and a person. His will is that our will should conform to His: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44).

Sometimes I think that the most fundamental thing in determining how people act in the world is their stance on the question of authority. If you don't believe there is a divine will, you will be modern, rationalist and leftist. This can play itself out in a number of ways, but this is the first fork in the road. For you, the world is material and meaningless and irrational. You might try to inscribe meaning into the world, but it does not have meaning in and of itself, and you can't trust yourself or anyone else because you and they are both materially caused, both in mind and emotion. The denial of the divine will impels one inwards towards an idea called the self, which is highway rest stop on the way to nothingness and thus nihilism. The self can't find anything inside the self. If you think there is a divine will, you will be on the other fork. It will take some work, but you can see that being is better and more powerful than non being, and thus good truly IS while evil is merely parasitic on it. Thus God is good, as is his creation. With this knowledge, you can begin to trust your own rationality, which informs you of the need to find and conform to the divine will. This second logical fork, followed to its logical end, leads you to be other directed, the ultimate other being God himself. Political conservatives take ideas about honour and rationality and family seriously. These ideas have little or no meaning or value for those on the other path. This is why it is almost impossible to have constructive dialogue with them. Leftists talk about "social justice" which, if it is anything at all, is justice as written by human emotion, rather than justice written by God and sought by the mind of man. Practical conclusions: Conservatives are on the path seeking God's divine will, whether they know it or not. A free and just society is dependent on the idea of a just God. Without it, each man is his own authority, and there is nothing compelling one man to respect the rights of another. When Conservatives differ, it is not because some are religious and others are not; they differ on what they think the divine will is. The difficulty in dealing with leftists is in getting them to look outside themselves in a way that isn't paternalistic and therefore still self projecting.

Uncle!

Belmont Club observes about the new OBL tape that:

It is important to notice what he has stopped saying in this speech. He has stopped talking about the restoration of the Global Caliphate. There is no more mention of the return of Andalusia. There is no more anticipation that Islam will sweep the world. He is no longer boasting that Americans run at the slightest wounds; that they are more cowardly than the Russians. He is not talking about future operations to swathe the world in fire but dwelling on past glories. He is basically saying if you leave us alone we will leave you alone. Though it is couched in his customary orbicular phraseology he is basically asking for time out.

The American answer to Osama's proposal will be given on Election Day.
Sure makes the "root causes" crowd look dumb. Unless you think W. called OBL and asked for some help, in which case it is you who needs help.

The Ecumenism of the Trenches

George Weigel writes:
The National Catholic Reporter editorially accused Archbishop John Myers, Professor Robert George, Father Richard John Neuhaus, and me of “a deliberate...attempt to delegitimize the Democratic Party in the eyes of American Catholic voters.” This was, the editorial continued, an unprecedented attempt by a “small band of ideological partisans...to make their narrow reading of a political race the undisputed view of the Church.” Oh. Really? The truth of the matter, as Senator Kerry’s ill-informed approach to the stem cell and abortion issues reveals, is that the Democratic Party has delegitimized itself in the minds of millions of Catholic voters (including many former Democrats) who require no instruction on these matters from the archbishop of Newark, the holder of Woodrow Wilson’s chair at Princeton, America’s most influential Catholic public intellectual, or me.
This severe division of the electorate is probably not a good thing in the long haul. The only benefit that I can see is that is provides an opportunity for religious people, mostly Christians but also Jews, to get acquainted with one another in a way that they would not otherwise have. I heard a nice phrase describing this process on EWTN this morning: it is the ecumenism of the trenches. The downside is that too many good people are deprived of a choice in the voting booth. It is possible to dislike president Bush without falling into Michael Moore moonbat country. You might not like any one of a number of his policies - it may be trade protectionism, or perhaps you advocate a different but still vigourous approach to the War on Terror. Ideally, you would have a better choice than John Kerry, who many believe, including me, is simply not an option. Not for anyone who takes the War on Terror seriously. Not for anyone who takes their religion seriously. (If your religion is abortion, however, you have your man). I do think a two party system is better than a multi party system. But for it to excel, both parties have to vigorously persue the middle ground. The Democrats are increasingly leaving the middle ground to the Republicans and pursuing instead paranoid fringe groups who think Chomsky is on to something. Perhaps this shift was inevitable given the numbers of Boomers* who simply refuse to grow up. They had to coalesce somewhere and not surprisingly it has been the Democratic Party. If the Boomers are beginning to hit 65 in the next few years, does that mean we're in for twenty years of this? No. Note that the Boomers have had political control since the late 1960's. From then until now, both parties pursued the middle ground, which became increasingly left as the WWII generation began to pass away. If you are a Boomer leftie, the scandal is that the Clinton years may have been your high water mark. There is a shift back to historical norms among younger voters. There are in our cohort some loud lefties, but for the most part we are turning away from their policies. We have seen those policies crash and burn. As we (Gen X and Y and so on) get older, the number of lefties will probably decline even more - time generally makes people less radical. Right now we have terribly shrill rhetoric coming from some older leftists who are sensing and attempting to resist the turning of the tide. They are feeding and inflaming their young supporters - hence the violence and intimidation, as happened at the Republican convention. It won't work. Demographic trends don't respond to such things. Perhaps part of it is the smaller families liberal pro aborts tend to have that is coming back to haunt them. So the shrill hostility we are currently seeing is not likely to go on infinitely. Someone is bound to come up the Democratic ranks and take them back to the middle, a la Tony Blair. For one thing they will get tired of losing. For another, some people are bound to get frustrated with the Republican party and seek to re-mold the Dems into a viable option. Parties burn political capital while in office. That's just the way it is. I see a similar trend in Canada, but it is much more muted. As for Europe - keep praying. * Note that not all Boomers are lefties, I know. It may be unfair but for simplicity's sake I'm using Boomer and leftie as equal in this post. via Mark Shea

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Rawhide!

Very Funny. See it to the end.

The Arrogant Generation

NRO's Myrna Blyth on Teresa K:

In her "enough about him, let's talk about me" convention speech Teresa declared, "My only hope is that one day soon, women — who have all earned the right to their opinions — instead of being labeled opinionated, will be called smart and well informed, just like men." With that much-quoted remark she was playing, of course, to those few perpetually disgruntled 60s-era feminists still among us — many of whom, by the way, are part of the media.

The only problem is that, throughout the campaign, Teresa has not been "smart and well informed" — she has been a dopey near-disaster. From telling a reporter asking a tough question to "shove it," to winning the New York Times's Marie Antoinette Award (for suggesting that Caribbean children who were victims of a hurricane "go naked"), to last week's diss of Mrs. Bush, it has been gaffe after gaffe after gaffe.
I much appreciated Blyth's taking on the "perpetually disgruntled 60s-era feminists still among us." You know they are out there, and often you can spot them just by their hair, which hasn't changed in 30 years or more, except now it's grey. Some may have put the long straight bangs away, but then there are the catchphrases:
  • women have earned the right to X (like, who's fighting it?)
  • women can X, just like men (why do you always use men as the yardstick of normalcy?)
  • evil corporations (UGH!)
  • the right wing media (howzzat again?)
  • the backlash (used to avoid addressing any criticism, at any time, from anyone)
  • denial or polyanna (if false consciousness exists, how do you know you aren't the one suffering from it?)
  • social justice (what does the word social add to the concept?)
  • nostalgia for the civil rights movement in the 60's (the world was a black pit before that, dontcha know)
  • the struggle for X (everybody struggles, why are your interests so special? Stop projecting!)
  • if you're Catholic, "the spirit of Vatican II" (what, Vatican II said we should be hedonistic pagans?)
  • the evil military-industrial complex
  • "progressive values" are the only acceptable ones (what about tolerance?)
  • stop picking on Castro and Arafat (they're just a misunderstood sweeties)
This group includes virtually every high school and elementary teacher I ever had, many of my childhood friends' parents, and more co-workers than I'd ever care to count. I also made the mistake of having one raving left wing gilrfriend, back in my twenties, and you know, it's one of those mistakes you don't make twice. These ideas are not unique to women, btw-it's the inept, fossilized mindset I'm being critical of. Here's an antidote. Here's just one prize to take with you next time one of these schmutzes tries to impress you with that urban legend about the "rule of thumb." I'm not buying it and I don't care how indignant you get. Now, where's my cheque from the VRWC?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Andrew Coyne gets Religion

Political Zealotry No sooner do I post about British Columbia's Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform than Andrew Coyne from the National Post runs a long column on the topic. Unlike me, he rasphodizes about it (no surprise). The process is, he says:
One of those rare, inspiring moments when democracy bursts out of the pens the political class have built around it [and] the people's voice is actually heard.
I don't mind Coyne -often he's interesting and thoughtful - but there are times when his pointy head screams for some rounding. This is such an occasion. The Warmup Let's start by exploding the concept of 'the people.' It does not exist. It is a fiction, created by the political class, i.e. by people like Coyne himself. It gives them something easy to write about. Arguing that countries with Proportional Representation have a better political track record than those using Westminster style government is hard. And that is why no one does it. It's much easier to get all gassy about 'the people,' which can be defined as anything, allowing you to say anything about it. The people won't be giving exclusive interviews the next morning, saying their words were taken out of context. There's a reason, you know, why pollsters don't print results saying that the people think X for a reason. It's because there are always people who don't think X, and they are people too. This is merely the warmup, however. Coyne could say any darn thing about 'the people' any darn time, so why is he so happy now? The Pitch This is what has Coyne and so many others very excited:
The result... would be a legislature in which the parties were represented more nearly in line with their support in the electorate at large. If a party has 40% of the vote, it should have something close to 40% of the seats, rather than the two thirds or more typical of the present system.
Ok, so at first glance this does not seem unreasonable, except that simply we have to ask, why this idea should be so important: 40% of the vote equals approx. 40% of the seats. What is so magical about that? Why does it appear to Coyne and others as some kind of holy grail, the attractiveness of which is so obvious that it does not even need to be explained? Why does an idea taken on nothing but faith have such appeal for an atheist like Coyne? I'll tell you what I think. Pointy heads like it. It has a kind of pointy headed symmetry. They think it means more "voices" will be "heard," that it will "listen" to the downtrodden, and that it might even make the lion lay down with the lamb. From where I stand, what people in weak social positions need is good stable government and as much opportunity and encouragement as possible. Coalitions are inherently unstable and they allow the smaller party more power than voters gave them, because the small party holds the make or break position. A frequent rotation of coalition governments would create legal and economic chaos, as laws are created and modified and broken willy nilly by different groups attempting to stay on top of the dogpile. So much for helping the downtrodden. I fail to see how encouraging minority governments and collations among political zealots will do anything at all for them. A Home Run The real reason the political class likes Proportional Representation is that it means they don't have to get their hands dirty through the process of compromise that takes place within a larger party, which then has to take responsibility for a compromised course. The political class can then cling to ideological purity and when something blows up, blame it on compromises that were made to keep the coalition alive. This mix of power and irresponsibility will only further ramp up their desire to be ideologically insular and withdrawn. Consider that if the United States did not have an Electoral College, we would witnessing Al Gore's response to 9/11. The college acts to mitigate against the fact that large numbers of voters live in urban areas and it would be unfair to allow them to control what happens in rural areas simply because there are more of them. Locality counts, as proximity to an issue makes you a better steward of it. Locality also means community and cohesion. PR would allow extreme views, views that no community accepts, to band together irrespective of location. It reminds me of how kiddie porn flows through the internet, come to think of it. If it is peace, order and good government you seek, the current 'first past the post' system has a very good track record delivering stable majorities and there is no reason to meddle with it. If, however, your political leaning is also you church, well, then anything at all that will keep you from mixing with the heathens will be sought out with great determination.

Blogwise

From The Curt Jester, two good posts. Road Sign Catechism is good for a giggle. And a Jester reader points to a critical approach to the condoms in schools issue that hadn't occurred to me before:

More people need to point out the foolishness of the condom programs by capitalizing on the contrast with anti-smoking programs. How about we start our own anti-smoking campaign?

-Pass out filtered, low nicotine cigarettes to kids: They're Gonna Try It Anyway, So Give Them Some Protection!

Also worth a look is the Catholic Carnival, held at a good blog, Living Catholicism. Living Catholicism also has information about the traditions Halloween springs from and how we might keep them alive. The Carnival, btw, is a bit like the Red Ensign Roundup - posts collected from all over.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Members of a family

Mark Shea is, in my teeny weeny mind, the best Catholic apologist in the blogosphere.
Family, family, family. Not the individual. Not the state. Not the corporation. Family. That's the key. And that, of course, is because the Trinity is at the core of the Church's teaching. Scott Hahn once remarked to me that "Calvinism is monotheism come of age. But Catholic faith is *Trinitarianism* come of age." That more or less summarizes the difference between the American vision of society, which is rooted in a sort of quasi-Calvinist vision of the Individual made in the image of One Ruggedly Individual God of Hosts, and the Catholic vision, which sees the Person (who is always in relationship) made (along with the Family) in the image of the Trinity of Love. On both left and right, the vision of the Individual, fighting to be free of the intrusions of Church, State, and Society, dominates the American psyche. But Catholic teaching sees us not as Darwinian Individuals in atomized isolation, but as members of a family made in the image of God who is himself a sort of Holy Family.

Strengthen the Good

From Peggy at Speak Up For Truth, a link to a site that I thought I ought to share: Strengthen The Good. This is done by Alan Nelson at The Command Post. Peggy also has good things to say about NWW, for which I'm grateful.

In Lotus Land...

I went to vote and all I got was this lousy compromise Here in British Columbia, Canada, our next provincial election will include a referendum on the electoral process itself. A 'Citizens Coalition' selected by the Provincial Government has recently finished its deliberations and has begun to reveal its suggestions for reform. The most important suggestion is that we move to a ballot that allows voters to select more than one candidate, and to rank them in order of preference. They are also suggesting that areas with large populations might have more than one representative in the legislature. Media experts (if that isn't an oxymoron) seem to think this is a great idea. Not me. I addressed this topic during the last Federal election, when noises were being made to the effect that maybe Canada as a whole had something to learn from B.C. Executive summary: Hell no. What are commonly considered to be flaws in the existing system are in fact features. Virtuous features. Politics is not like going to the mall for a power tool, where you need just the thing for you and your situation. No. In politics, you need to make accommodations. No one gets what they want. If most of us weren't using a consumer mindset to evaluate the process, we would not be having this conversation. This post is being reprinted (with permission) from my old and defunct web site. May 31, 2004 Since I put up my first ever political lawn sign today, this might be a day to write something about Canadian politics. (Like I've never done that on this site before.) To no one's surprise, it was for the Conservative Party candidate in my riding, Randy White. In B.C., my home province, the provincial government has undertaken something called (I forget the exact name of it) a "Citizens' Panel on Politics." It's supposed to consult the people of B.C. about what kind a changes they think we need to our provincial system. Its results are supposed to go to a referendum. The panel process is getting glowing reviews from all the journalists and political mucky mucks with a pen or air time. This process, and malaise that gave rise to it, and the reaction it is getting seem to me to say a lot sad things about Politics in B.C., and quite possibly the country as a whole. I just saw the CBC's resident windbag, Rex Murphy, do one of his pontifical pieces and it included a bit with some ordinary joe who is having a tough time, it seems, connecting with any of the political parties. Rex asks him if any of the parties speaks for him and we cut to a long pause, followed by a wistful sigh. "I'm undecided, Rex. It's hard." Rex nods gravely. "Yes, it is hard" he intones. This "brave, new" panel is then touted as a possible solution. What is the probability of this panel fixing this guy's problem? This Canadian says it's not bloody likely. It is hard to know where to start, I have such a withering response to this idea that what is needed is to fix the system. The system, make no mistake, has some problems, and some of them are very large. I'll get to those in a minute. You see, I kind of think that anyone who wants to take the right to vote seriously, can do just a small amount of homework, do it only once and then use it to make more or less short work out of most elections that cross their plate. The easiest, most obvious plane that divides political parties in the West is their stance on the role and size of government. You either think a large government is the best - or a least good - way of solving problems facing citizens. I'd tell you flat out that you're wrong about that, but nevertheless you favour large government or you don't. And you use that stance to sift through what the parties are telling you. You find one or two parties that you are in agreement with. Now it gets trickier, it's true. Maybe the party you favour has no hope of forming the government or even getting a single MP elected. Well, if you're an idealist, you vote your heart and hold your head high. Most of us want our vote to "count" in some way or another. So maybe you look at a larger party with a track record that you don't like 100%, or a leader you don't trust as much as you'd like to. Now, here I think the mistake a lot of people make is to keep thinking that there is a perfect solution (there isn't) and that if I think long enough, I'll find it. When they can't find it, they cry that the system's broken and needs to be modernized. This tells us more about modern voters than it does our system. Politics is about compromise and negotiation. So I'd suggest voting for the larger party, even if it isn't ideal. I say this because I think it is part of an adult political sensibility. Large parties are large because they appeal to very large numbers of people. Your friends and your neighbors. By accommodating yourself to of the larger parties you are indicating that you are willing to work it out with your neighbors. Voting for a smaller party and accepting that your desired result will take more than one election indicates the same. If large numbers of people do this, extreme views are largely shut out. Our political class thinks this is a bad thing. I'm a conservative person and I think that not only is exactly what was intended, it is the right solution. In Canada we use the British Westminster system, one that has served that country pretty well for many hundreds of years. There have been changes in how the English use their system in modern times - the influence of the Lords has lessened and the vote is much more broadly based than it was in the past. The system has a pretty good history and is used in many places around the world. These things tell me that it works pretty well, as long as we abide the idea of accommodating our neighbors. The system values *local* representation and requires that governments are built on broad, widespread support. Too often, efforts to "fix the system" are merely efforts to undermine the local and the broad that our system demands, and replace it with the ideological and narrow. I fear that people like the man in dear Rex's feature view politics as ideologues, or, at the very least, like consumers. They think that the system should give them what they want, when they want it. This is a rather childish view, to say the least. The problem of ideology is similar in many ways. The Green Party, to take one example, has been pushing for Proportional Representation. They know that they have very low numbers in almost all ridings and therefore a slim chance of electing anyone. Having been a fan of the Reform Party, I know a reasonable party can, through hard work, break into the mainstream consciousness. The Greens are not, in my view, reasonable, and that is why they poll so low. Now, rather than review policy and keep trying to establish an electoral base, they want to re-write the rules. They know that they have some hard core support, but it is spread out across the country. I don't think much of opening the door to ideology any more than necessary. I firmly think that human political philosophies are invariably crude and not up to the task of governing and that it is the process of compromise that shears off the ridiculous pointy headed edges of any such philosophy. Governments that govern from ideological purity are the stuff of nightmares. The man in Rex's TV piece needs to either educate himself or abstain from voting. I truly wish we would hear a whole lot less about how we need to have mass turnout on voting day. We understandably expect the parties to push to get their supporters to the polls. What's less clear is why many of the so called thinking people think a low turnout is such a bad thing. There are many people who don't have the inclination or education to make a vote - and they know it. When we push people like this to vote we drag the whole debate down. Policy gets pushed aside and the fear mongering and demagoguery gets ramped up. Not interested in politics? Fine, stay home and accept that you'll need to make some kind of peace with the results. Find that unacceptable? Well, what kind of government do you want? Start with the question of size, it's often the easiest for people to grab onto. There is another important aspect to the vote, however, one that I am increasingly aware of. In a way, the debate on government size is almost a proxy for this second issue, which tends to get shunted aside in polite debate, because it tends to be explosive. The second question is the question of the value of human life. Governments, both large and small can be onerous and neglectful of human life but it's my opinion that large governments are worse. They have powers that other people - big business, for the lack of a better name - very seldom do: powers to tax, police, jail, draft, legislate and so on. Parties favouring small government have a large head start on those who favour a top down approach but it's not enough. They must still be willing to identify places where government can assert itself for the good of all, places where business can't be counted on to take the long, broad view. Most people would place the care of the weakest members of society in such a category. Like a dancer, the small government must know when and where to stick it's nose in, and what moves will suit the music and not result in something ridiculous. Very often the best moves will be those that have worked in the past, the choreographed ones - but not always. Proportional Representation would lead to small ideological extremists punching above their weight, to no one's gain. A minority government does much the same thing. Thankfully, the system recognizes this and minority governments tend to be short lived things. What really worries me is that too many of our professional thinkers seem to crave reinventing the game out of some cynical jaded sense of diversity. Or maybe it's just juvenile boredom. What we do need is the ability to appoint judges and senators to be taken away from the PM. Judges should be appointed by a free vote in parliament and senators by the people, through their provincial leaders. That would rightly de-centralize our powers, and greatly increase the role of all of the voters in the country, while keeping the Federal reps tied to a locality and it's issues.

Monday, October 25, 2004

From Germany

Aus Deutschland, it's relative From left to right: Cousin Sandra, my Mom, Aunt Erma, and Cousin Carston I spent two days last week playing tour guide for my mother, who had relatives from Germany staying with her for two days. My aunt Erma, and my cousins Sandra and Carston had only a week to spend in North America and it had to be split between San Francisco, where Sandra is studying, and greater Vancouver, where my parents live. Since we had only two days to show them around, they were pretty long days! On day one we showed them Stanley Park, since there is a rule that all tourists in Vancouver must see Stanley Park. We saw the Totem Poles, some of the Seawall, and Prospect Point. Did I mention that at Prospect Point we saw a raccoon? Raccoons are not native to Europe, so this was a big hit. Too bad he spent a lot of the time cleaning himself and taking care of... um... business. Then we had lunch at Steamworks in Gastown, and saw a bit of Gastown itself. Then we quickly exited the downtown core and wisked them over the Capilano Suspension Bridge. That was cool and everyone had a good time. Carston had a great time jiggling the bridge as much as he could. It was the first chance I'd had to see the new tree bridge, the one that is built right into the trees. Finally, we brought them out to Abbotsford to meet my family (my wife and mother-in-law) over diner at a local restraunt. It's a long drive from the North Shore to the Fraser Valley, for those not in the know. On day two, we decided to tour the Whistler Village and the Sea to Sky Highway. That meant stops at Shannon Falls and Squamish, where we introduced them to Tim Horton's (which they had never heard of). From there we continued up to Brandywine Falls, which is a pretty impressive waterfall. Kind of like the Stawamus Chief overlooking Squamish is a pretty impressive hunk of granite. I've hiked up it twice, by the way, and strongly recommend it to anyone who's willing to walk uphill for over an hour. The view is amazing. I regret that there was no time for that on this trip. Then on to Whistler Villiage itself, which was a little quiet as it was between seasons - too late for hiking and too early for skiing. Still, it was fun to take it all in. This is where the 2010 Olympics will take place. The drive back was very long, especially for me, as I had to come all the way back to Abbostford. But the whole two days were a lot of fun and I was very glad to have the time to spend, as I have not seen much of my family in Europe since I was seven, when my mother and I visited the old country. My German is much more miss than hit, so it was a very good thing that my mother and Sandra were both able to translate quickly and well. Poor Erma and I were the most unilingual ones and we would have been lost without their help. Oh, and my computer is A-Ok again and has been for about a week. My patches took, it just needed a full bore reboot to take effect (not those quick things Win XP does when you ask it nicely). Posted by Hello

Can you imagine

Four years of this? "Another thing that drives me crazy, and I hope I don't offend anyone here, is WAL-MART," Mrs. Kerry told a group of Democratic women activists at a luncheon in St. Paul last Tuesday. "They destroy communities." Drudge says... Teresa Heinz Reality: H.J. Heinz III Marital Trust Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Assets: Over $1,000,000 Dividends, Income: $2,501 - $5,000 Transactions: 04/04/02: Purchase: $500,001 - $1,000,000 04/05/02: Purchase: $500,001 - $1,000,000 06/04/02: Purchase: $15,001 - $50,000 06/06/02: Purchase: $50,001 - $100,000 11/13/02: Purchase: $50,001 - $100,000 11/14/02: Purchase: $15,001 - $50,000 11/14/02: Purchase: $15,001 - $50,000 via Colby and beyond!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Enjoying it

This would make a fine Christmas present. We saw Saved! last night and I must confess I didn't really understand why it got under some people's skins the way it did. The movie seemed to say that you can't use religion as a bully pulpit, or as a shield for your own agrandizement or power. It said that our relationship with God is not about mouthing the right words or doing the right things robotically. Today's reading backs that up:
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity-- greedy, dishonest, adulterous--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
I have to be careful in this post because it is not my intent to attack anyone. I'm only asking honest questions. I must admit, however, that the appeal of the kind of Christianity in the film is a mystery to me. The best I can do is suppose that there are some people who cannot abide not knowing if they are saved or not. There seems to be a danger in this stance, however, of the 'elect' putting themselves above their neighbor, rather than helping him. Mandy Moore yelling that she was "filled with God's love" and throwing the Bible at Jena Malone epitomized that sentiment for me. It also seemed that any human failing was "proof" that the person in question was not, in fact, saved after all, and that lead to a great deal of tension and robotic behavior. Catholics are usually more accepting of mystery. Mystery, I think, ought to act as a motivator - for reflection and for action, for longing those small, graceful movements of the heart through which faith grows. It seems to me that the mystery and the longing are bound together and that you can't have one without the other. The smoking nuns pictured above would today be considered to be sinning against the fifth commandment (thou shalt not kill), as we now know smoking is very unhealthy. At the time of the photo (I'm guessing it was in the 1940's or 50's) smoking might have been allowed, depending on the order they belonged to and what the occasion was. The action in both cases is the same, but the attitude towards God is different with the new information, and that changes the meaning of the act. The Catholic takes in new information and responds accordingly trusting that if one is sincere in repentence forgiveness will be given. The other point of view seems to be always under threat. Note: Ignorance is not an excuse, as we are obliged to find out as much as we can about what is permitted and what is not. You can't be saved by Sloth. Posted by Hello

$#@! the Dems

$#@! the Dems.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Fame and blogrolls

I must famous. I'm being linked to and read by people with whom I would probably disagree. A lot. Well, I promise to play nice. I've also been blogrolled a bit recently, so many thanks to everyone who's expressed some confidence in this blog. I must also confess that I have not been able to keep up with the always expanding Red Ensign group. There are some new members whose sites I have not really had time to read. I'll try to get to them soon. In the meantime, thanks for your patience.

Frodo's burden

An excerpt from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:
[Frodo] said nothing, indeed he hardly spoke at all; he did not complain, but walked like one who carries a load, the weight of which is ever increasing; and he dragged along, slower and slower, so that Sam had often to beg Gollum to wait and not to leave their master behind. In fact with every step towards the gates of Mordor Frodo felt the Ring on its chain about his neck grow more burdensome. He was now beginning to feel it as an actual weight dragging him earthwards. But far more was he troubled by the Eye: so he called it to himself. It was that more than the drag of the Ring that made him cower and stoop as he walked. The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable. So thin, so frail and thin, the veils were become that still warded it off. Frodo knew just where the present habitation and heart of that will now was: as certain as a man can tell the direction of the sun with his eyes shut. He was facing it, and its potency beat upon his brow.
There have been many interpretations of the Lord of the Rings over the years, ranging from the interesting to the inane. For the most part, Tolkien offered little help to his readers and critics. But in 1953, four years after the work was written, and only eight months before the first edition appeared, he did write the following to Father Murray, who was a family friend:
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision... [I am] grateful for having been brought up (since I was eight) in a faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know.
Joseph Pearce, in Tolkien: Man and Myth, compares the above passage from The Lord of the Rings to Christ carrying the cross to Calvary and this is a reading that the letter to Murray supports. Other obvious evidence of Catholicity in The Lord of the Rings include Lembas bread as eucharististic bread, and Galadriel as a Marian character. Consider too how much the story is dependent on self sacrifice: Gandalf, Aaragorn, Frodo and Sam all sacrifice themselves for others and are reborn as a result. Boromir also repents and sacrifices himself for others. The race of men are frequently spoken of as weak and broken, unlike the elves. Critic Charles Moseley describes the metaphysics of Tolkien's created world thus:
Neither propaganda nor allegory, at its root lies the Christian model of a world loved into being by a Creator, whose creatures have the free will to turn away from the harmony of that love to seek their own will and desires, rather than seeking to give themselves in love to others. This world is one of cause and consequence, where everything matters, however seemingly insignificant: action plucks on action, and the end of this self love is the reduction of freedom, the imprisonment of the self, and the inability to give or receive the love that is the only thing desired...
I think Tolkien's message is clearly visible in the recent film trilogy, despite the indifference of many major players like Peter Jackson, and even the outright hostility of some actors, such as Viggo Mortensen. I think the film's tremendous success is due to the fact that the metaphysics Moseley describes were not purged from it. It is all too easy to think of films with good casts and big budgets that have been empty shells and box office bombs. God in Tolkien's fantasy world has not yet revealed himself and that gives the story its shallow pagan appearance. It is time that Tolkien's sources were recognized, however. This story and, by extention, this film, are an excellent means of demonstrating the timeless appeal of truth.

I'm back

I'm back and rested after a couple of very long and busy (but fun!) days. Things should be getting back to normal around here. Long boring posts on philosophical topics, tearing at our hapless Feds, as well as links to amusing things, will all resume shortly.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Blogroll

My blogroll has been expanding a lot recently and I have not said much about it but I want to point out three new additions because I think they are all fine blogs - Sirius Back of the North Wind (no relation) Was Ever Thus The Dawn Treader All of them are thoughtful and Christian and Was Not Ever Thus is Canadian and Catholic. Dawn Treader is CS Lewis inspired, and Back of the North Wind is big on George MacDonald, a less well known member of Lewis' Inklings. I am off to show some relatives from Germany around Vancouver again today. Actually, today we are off to Whistler and that's a ways off so I must be going.... !

Monday, October 18, 2004

Reasonable, Educated People

The Preisthood The National Post's Elizabeth Nickson made up for her somewhat off last column this past Saturday. Her topic was a quietly resurgent Christianity; she claims that Christian books are enjoying a banner year in 2004, while sales of New Age books are flat. Sadly, some of these so called Christian books are merely New Age books is Christian drag: The Da Vinci Code, The Pagan Christ, etc. In discussing these trends, Nickson hits on something important:
What bothered me, frankly, was the assumption that Christianity presents "insurmountable problems for reasonably educated people today." Well, I am a reasonably educated person and I have no difficulties. I do have friends who have difficulties, but they are heathens [hung up on] Jung and Campbell.
I had a good chuckle over her description of her friends here, and I appreciated her point that there is nothing simplistic about Christianity if it is approached with maturity and honesty. One does not need to shut off one's brain on Sunday. She continues, questioning why critics of Christianity fail to recognize or to value Christianity's ability to "integrate a working faith among the educated and (this is important) uneducated alike." Here Nickson strikes at something that has impressed me in the short time that I have been calling myself Christian. Biblical verses - and this is especially so of the Gospels - have a simple layer that appeals very strongly to the simplest people, while retaining a depth that can be plumbed again and again by those with the time and the interest to do so. Original Sin is a concept that appears a lot on this blog. If you are of a more philosophical frame of mind, you can translate that as "lacking in epistemic and ontological depth." That begins a translation of the idea, and with some reading you can get more detail out of it, probably a lifetime's worth. Appealing to people of such different habits of mind - literate and non literate, educated and non educated, rural and industrialized, is no small thing, and to do so on subjects of such depth and complexity is quite remarkable. And then it really hits you- these verses have been appealing to people of such varying abilities for thousands and thousands of years. America was founded in 1776. The Gospels are 2,000 years old, and the Old Testament goes back to 6,000 B.C. Nickson ruins a good run at the end by adding that "the most dynamic quality of Christianity... is its persistent shedding of a priestly class that explicates 'mythos'." It is my experience as a Catholic that our priestly class, including all the way up to the Pope himself, exists partly to protect us from the kind of New Age or Gnostic readings Nickson is so rightly critical of. Think about it- theology is as complicated a subject as there could possibly be. Can we realistically expect the average educated person to do it justice? How about the uneducated? While working and raising a family? We don't expect doctors to train themselves, so why is theology supposed to be a self help subject? I had an interesting discussion with a very devout man who was a Seventh Day Adventist once. He told me that when we read the Bible, that we should always try to read it in the most "straightforward, literal sense, or else anyone can make anything of it." I don't know a lot about Adventists other than they are somewhat fundamentalist, and tend to be closed to allegorical readings. I could not agree with him, but neither could I explain myself. He didn't have the education in literature or philosophy and I suspect he would have thought I was trying to bamboozle him (he knew I was Catholic). I firmly believe that allegory adds a lot to our understanding of the Bible, and that we are protected from erroneous allegorical readings by our priestly class if it is functioning properly. Our RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) director, father Dion explained it: the church is charged with protecting the culture that produced the Bible. That culture is key to avoiding cultural and temporal misunderstandings. In other words, my Adventist friend (and I do consider him a friend) did not see that a "straightforward, literal sense" for him in 21st Century Canada could not be precisely the same as what it would be for someone in, say, modern Syria. Or in ancient Palestine for that matter. He did not recognize that some Biblical books are in the form of ancient poems and that understanding them requires some knowledge of that form and its conventions. I'm not arguing that all the books people use to explore faith ideas must come through the Church, but I am pointing out that in any field you care to name, we rely on experts to guide us when we become puzzled or encounter data that we can't account for. Our priests are there for us in matters of theology. They spend years in seminary learning about it and seeing as they are celibate, they do not have family issues to distract them. You don't have to know very many university students to know that family and dating matters are always on the brain and that this can severely impair their ability to study. Before anyone else says it, I will admit that priests can fail and have failed. They are, after all, just as human as anyone else. The solution to that problem is Tradition, which is another topic.

First steps

Johny Dee has done a post about my lame attempts to understand the concept of a 'foundational thought.' I say lame because I fear I'm no closer to following him. I'm not sure my response here can still be called a discussion of Foundationalism. I appear to be taking things in another direction entirely. For this I have to apologize and to admit my credentials in philosophy are somewhat slim: two undergrad courses (an introduction to logic and arguments, and an introduction to the philosophy of science) and a small pile of books on the subject, most of them of the survey type. John, on the other hand, has a lot more specialized schooling behind him. Nevertheless- I mentioned in my first post on the subject, that a belief in God might be a candidate for a foundational thought. It seemed to me, and I was thinking of Descartes when I wrote it, that being is the basic ontological building block, but being hasn't necessarily got awareness or thought. If we are thinking, we have to ask if we are justified in our thoughts. We have two choices, but the first one, not trusting our thoughts, leads nowhere. If we do accept our own rationality, it can only be justified by the existence of God. Note that we have not touched on Christianity at this point, merely benevolent monotheism. In the article John suggested to me, I take exception to this passage:
your belief that you have a headache isn't open to [doubt]. You may be awake or asleep, drunk or sober -- it makes no difference. If you believe that you have a headache, you are right. What is more, your belief is justified... When it comes to your headache, you are aware without any inference or possibility of slippage of the very factors that make your belief a true one.
I don't see how pain is different than any other kind of thought. You have to accept it as true, like anything else. Or you think it false, caused by Descartes' Demon, or Naturalistic causes or something else that is not justified. We are having a difference over the term 'thought.' Are sensations thoughts or not? As I am using the term, a sensation and a thought are interchangeable. I want to move on to some ideas from a book by Roger Scruton that I read and enjoyed a lot, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy. Scruton suggests that the way out of the dilemma Descartes gives us is to be found not in turning inwards, into ourselves (ie. sensation, self, etc.), but by turning outward. He calls this the 'private language argument':
[Philosophers] assume that they know what they mean by 'I' 'think' and 'self'; but this is precisely what they cannot assume. All is darkness in that 'inner world,' and who knows what resides there, or indeed, whether anything resides there at all? ... The argument tells us to stop seeking for the first person viewpoint, which asks what I can know and how I know it. It invites us to look at our situation from outside, and ask how things must be, if we are to suffer these philosophic doubts.... We can ask why and how only if we have a language in which to phrase them. And no language can refer to merely private things.
So our first step, faith, has given us justified thoughts, and a public, objective realm [language] in which to think them. This realm is not ontological truth, but it is still important because it gives us something other than ourselves with which to interact - other people, family, community. All of these are much larger than sensation, but I'm left wondering how one can think about anything smaller without invoking them. I hope I'm not off on a rail John. As you said in your post: "Belief in God is not basic. If it was basic, then asking why I believe it would be a silly question. " I think it is a silly question since it leads to a lot of trouble, as you admit. So why do people doubt it? There is a million dollar question. I would answer it with Original Sin, which impairs us quite badly. The first sin is Pride, which is first person view dependent. The third person is accessible but easily pushed aside by pride, sloth, avarice and so on. Btw, the 'enemies' entry for links has an odd Nixonian ring to it.

What he said

detente or interlude? As it appears to wind down, I thoroughly agree with Jay Currie's summation of the weekend's kerfuffle with Warren Kinsella:
Biggest lessons: stand your ground with bullies, the Canadian blogosphere will band together across party lines if one of its members is threatened with bogus legal action, bloggers are passionate about their right to express their opinions. The strength of blogs lies in the network rather than any individual blog. Poke a stick into the hive and you are going to get stung.
Interesting times.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Inconvenient Lives

Equality trumps Diversity? Robert Bork on abortion:
No amount of discussion, no citation of evidence, can alter the opinions of radical feminists about abortion. One evening I naively remarked in a talk that those who favor the right to abort would likely change their minds if they could be convinced that a human being was being killed. I was startled at the anger that statement provoked in several women present. One of them informed me in no uncertain terms that the issue had nothing to do with the humanity of the fetus but was entirely about the woman's freedom. It is here that radical egalitarianism reinforces radical individualism in supporting the abortion right. Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote Roe and who never offered the slightest constitutional defense of it, simply remarked that the decision was a landmark on women's march to equality. Equality, in this view, means that if men do not bear children, women should not have to either. Abortion is seen as women's escape from the idea that biology is destiny, to escape from the tyranny of the family role.
I'm not suggesting that women "must bear children"- only that consenting to sex is consenting to its consequences, and this applies to both sexes. To openly choose murder in order to advance "equality" strikes me as bizarre in the extreme. It is a consequence of pitting virtues against one another, rather than attempting to balance them. It is a consequence of putting personal ideology over biological fact. Who here is the mystic? Who is being logical and reasoned? The whole thing is worth your time.

Grace and Ecumenism

It's Sunday, a day when I try to minimize my blogging, but here is something to mull over. It is taken from D. McManaman and the subject is Christian relations with other faiths and those unchurched.
If Christ is the source of grace, can a non-Christian be in a state of grace? Strictly speaking, it is not possible to know with certainty if anyone in particular is in a state of grace, including we ourselves. When asked if she knew she was in God’s grace, St. Joan of Arc replied: “If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there” (Acts of the trial of St. Joan of Arc). ... Being in the state of grace is not about having correct theology or knowing specific truths. A Muslim may respond to the movements of interior grace to a much greater degree than the lukewarm Catholic, who is so indifferent to the demands of his religion that he does not even bother to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, let alone an entire month of the year. If Christianity is the right religion, Catholics may have more cause for fear and concern, for they will have a great deal more to answer for on the Day of Judgment. If I have been given much more than Mohandas K. Gandhi, what excuse do I have for giving back to God so much less than he did? If you have been baptized, confirmed, given the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity as well as the seven personal gifts of the Holy Spirit, the grace of regeneration, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins and the grace to overcome those sins in the future, strength in sickness, graces in matrimony, the revelation of the Old and New Testaments, sacramentals and the lives of the saints, how are you going to render an account for the fact that your life is outwardly no different than the average Hedonist, while the Muslim student who sat next to you all year prayed five times a day facing the East, gave a rather large percentage of his income to the poor, and did not allow even a drop of water to pass between his lips during daylight hours for an entire month of the year, without even half of the resources you were given?
It is, I think, a very mature response and we do well to uphold it, especially with those who would use Christianity as a shield for bigotry. Christians are often accused of arrogant and unjustified behavior in the face of difference, and no doubt it does happen. I cringe, for example, at those who like to wave signs that say things like "God hates fags." It is worth remembering that not everything done in the name of Christianity can be called Christian; that calling oneself religious does not absolve one of accountability for one's actions. The Catholic attitude towards other faiths is that they may have a percentage of truth to them, and they can use that percentage to find a greater percentage still. The Catholic is encouraged to aid that quest if he may. Sadly this response to difference is not always returned. There are some Christians - protestant fundamentalists mostly- who go so far as to deny that Catholics are even Christian. Thankfully I don't find that to be too common and I find much to like in many Evangelicals.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Limitations on Libertarianism

From Eternity Road, a good post from a good blog:
the theory of natural-rights liberty is largely correct. But it has a border around it, and a gray zone near that border where insistence on natural-rights absolutes puts one at odds with 99% of humanity.

The border is the demarcation line at which individual options end and a requirement for collective action begins:

  • When individuals don’t have a way to settle their differences as individuals, but must perforce act as collectivities;
  • When individuals do not possess the competence to act as the guardians of their own rights and well-being;
  • When individuals’ rights clash in an absolute and irreconcilable way.
These are the kinds of issues, particularly in regards to family issues, that put me off libertarianism. I still think it is often desireable to see if an issue can be left to a person and God to work out. Often we have to fall a few times before we can accept God's grace. But it really is true that "no man is an island" and that has implications for how we govern ourselves. For myself, I think it is in all of our interests to see to it that our nation and culture is projected into the future, and that we cannot take it for granted that this will happen.

Evidence of a sick culture

Like we needed this Quite unintentionally, I just bumped into this at Amazon.com . I wonder if I ought to take my shopping elsewhere. Things like this infantalize the culture. Oh, I know, I know, it might have been made as a gag gift- a parody of The Rules- and never intended to be acted out on. But still. If it were in my power, the people behind such hate would be fined quite heavily, and jailed for repeat offences. Advocating hate is not a freedom of speech issue. Chapter Titles and tips include: Gimmie my toy, you bitch! Roughing up the suspect Chicks are the enemy Banging a wife who's not yours Don't give her a cent Sexual deviance is entirely acceptable Not funny. Any woman with any sense will drop a man caught with material like this. If you think this is cool, you're pathetic.

The Warren thing

Warren Kinsella's upset by Damian Brooks saying that he might in some small way have responsibility for the death of a Canadian submariner, since he (Kinsella) was a part of a government that has cheaped out on things military for a very long time - since 1993, I believe. The obvious comparison is to comments that the leader of the NDP made during the last election, where Mr. Layton accused the Liberal government of responsibility for the death of a homeless person. That accusation was, rightly I think, laughed off by Paul Martin, and most Canadians that I know thought that Layton was a bit off in suggesting it. Is this a comparable case? Submariners, and all Canadian military personnel are making a very large sacrifice, by the nature of their profession. It is done voluntarily, but in a moral sense I think we are bound to recognize the scope of what they are doing. The sacrifice they make is among the highest we can make for our countrymen, and since it is so high, we ought to make every effort to ensure that we respond in kind, as best as we can. That means good equipment, a high degree of public respect, and a judicious use of our military force. I don't think we've lived up to that part of the equation. Is that Kinsella's fault? Not really. There are too many other factors that need to be considered, so many that assigning blame to one person, never mind the government, is too much of a stretch. The homeless person's claims on us are those he has by right of being human and being a neighbor. He has those rights and they are not nothing. But the military offers to do something very noble and worthy for us and that, in my mind, makes it's claims on us more serious. What am I getting at here? Simply this. If it was OK for Jack Layton to make his accusation on behalf of a homeless person during an election, and no lawsuit was threatened then, why is it NOT OK when a similar question is asked with no election on, and when the dead person may have a greater demand on our conscience? If Kinsella had not threatened to sue the whole thing would have blown away. There was no election pressure or media scrutiny of Damian's comments. Paul Martin, who I'm no fan of, had a better sense of the perceptual dynamics and let it go when the whole country was looking. Kinsella can't stand a few lonely bloggers even asking the question. The answer to the question, is Kinsella responsible for Lt. Saunders death, is no, he is not. The answer to the question, should Canadians be able to ask that question is, yes, they should. And no, I'm not talking about the state of the law here. Meanwhile Kinsella is still going about "kicking ass" (his words):
Those kinds of guys [conservative bloggers]- and they're mostly white, angry and aroused by Mark Steyn's web site - get offended by all sorts of things.
Kinsella is also white (relevance?) and it is clear he gets angry and aroused by these questions too. He just doesn't get it: The problem is that it is his own ass that he is kicking, because Damian's question has been amplified and readers' sympathy diluted by the addition of more questions: was the response appropriate? Was it appropriate given the way he plays the game?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Religion and Natural Right

Quote: "High fertility rates," [says Phillip] Longman, "correlate strongly with support for George W. Bush." Looking back to 2000, "if the Gore states seceded from the Bush states and formed a new nation, it would have the same fertility rate, and the same rapidly aging population, as France." Very interesting and short little article at the National Review today. Peter Augustine Lawler continues: "Fertility rates," Longman goes on, "correlate strongly with religious conviction. In the United States, fully 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say that their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, only 27 percent of those who seldom attend church want that many kids." Here's a bit more:
Our religious conservatives are the reason we are not fading away like France. That fact is as important as any other for our national security. Surely there is some deep connection between our nation's singular acceptance of its global military responsibilities, our singular acceptance of our familial responsibilities, and our singularly strong religious belief. The nation that can, for good reason, argue for the natural superiority of its principles and practices in the world today understands itself, at its best, as seeing no conflict between its natural duties and its duties to its Creator. The conservative view of the complex distinctiveness of the American idea of liberty is that it allows for the flourishing of all the goods that constitute lives that are free, rational, familial, social, political, and religious by nature. Liberals, conservatives believe, endanger those goods by understanding liberty too readily as freedom from the responsibilities that we are given with our natural purposes.
I couldn't resist. The importance of the western cutlure wars is grossly underestimated.

Pizza Night

Tonight is pizza night in out house, and in order avoid getting cheese and pepperoni all over my keyboard, there will be no blogging tonight. But before I go- The whole Kinsella thing is just too weird. I will say that if need be, I think we bloggers ought to consider helping in whatever way we can. These guys need to be taken down a notch or three. I can think of good things that might come of it, if it is played well. I can think of people who might like to help. We shall see. My computer does not appear to have a virus after all. It's just Microsoft being, well, Microsoft. First one of the Windows updates disables Window's search function. I fixed that with a reigstry hack. But I still can't edit, move, or delete icons or image files using Windows itself. Something is weirded out in the explorer shell. None of the patches or anything else I've done has fixed it. I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Fellowship 9/11

Truly Hilarious And a Must See: Fellowship 9/11 Michael Moore takes on Gandalf and Aaragorn. via Catholic and Enjoying it!

Postmodern Flashbacks

Jacques Derrida's death has unleashed a lot of commentary on the web and it is giving me the same headaches it did when I was an undergraduate at Simon Fraser University in the early 1990s. I offer the following links... From Englishman Roger Scruton, an article published by City Journal in 1999:
If you study the opinions that prevail in modern academies, you will discover that they are of two kinds: those that emerge from the constant questioning of traditional values, and those that emerge from the attempt to prevent any questioning of the liberal alternatives. All of the following beliefs are effectively forbidden on the normal American campus: (1) The belief in the superiority of Western culture; (2) The belief that there might be morally relevant distinctions between sexes, cultures, and religions; (3) The belief in good taste, whether in literature, music, art, friendship, or behavior; and (4) The belief in traditional sexual mores. You can entertain those beliefs, but it is dangerous to confess to them, still more dangerous to defend them, lest you be held guilty of "hate speech"—in other words, of judging some group of human beings adversely. Yet the hostility to these beliefs is not founded on reason and is never subjected to rational justification. The postmodern university has not defeated reason but replaced it with a new kind of faith—a faith without authority and without transcendence, a faith all the more tenacious in that it does not recognize itself as such.
Scruton also provides the following gem:
... you will find that almost all those who espouse the relativistic "methods" that Foucault, Derrida, and Rorty have introduced into the humanities are vehement adherents of a code of political correctness that condemns deviation in absolute and intransigent terms. The relativistic theory exists in order to support an absolutist doctrine.
Indeed. That sums up my university experience quite well. Scruton is a fine conservative, by the way, and I'd recommend his book The Meaning of Conservativism to anyone interesting really kicking the subject around. I found the Scruton article by way of John Ray's examination of Post Modernism.

The National Post

A voice for Canadian Conservatives In my humble opinion The National Post is not as good a paper as it used to be when Conrad Black still had a hand in it, but it is still pretty much the best thing going north of the 49th. Today they published the first of a series on Australia, with an eye to how different a course that country has taken in recent years compared to Canada. For the record: I love Aussies. And Kiwis too. I wish Canada were more like that. But we have problems, boy do we, on both the anglo and the french wings of the plane. Quebec suffers from the same problems as France, and that is that its culture has been given over to Rationalism since at least the 1960s, even earlier in France proper. Canadian anglos (too many of them in this writer's opinion) take their bearings from British Labour and Europe. Not Tony Blair, but the old British Labour. Those two cultures, and the way the population is distributed account for the seemingly endless Liberal government we suffer from. The Post also ran commentary from Father Raymond Desouza today, on the passing of Jacques Derrida. De Souza's comments on the subject are undoubtedly better than mine. If you have access to the Post on-line, by all means check it out (it's a pay site). I like De Souza quite a bit, and not just because he is just about the only Catholic priest one sees in the Canadian media. He's just readable and likeable. I remember that when the Pope was in Toronto for World Youth Day, De Souza and the Post had a lot of coverage and it got me to thinking in ways that I hadn't before. Also in the Post today is a nice bit from Barbara McKay on how leadership isn't synonymous with intelligence, despite what Liberals say. I bring up these bits of good news coverage because I have also had thoughts along the lines of Dana at Canadian Comment:
There are many days now where I simply can't stand to read what passes for commentary. I used to love the Internet because it allowed me to find thought provoking columns from all viewpoints making me think in ways I never had before. And yet for the last several months I find that I actually dread my daily search for reading material. I have always tried to find material from both the left and right viewpoints. As you can guess I tend to agree with views from the right but not to long ago there was a time that I could read views from the left and feel better for doing it. I learned a bit and as a minimum I gained an understanding of how the mind of the left works. And today... I just feel like I can't do it anymore.
Between the National Post and the blogosphere, I'm happy to say that there are good reads to be had. Thank goodness neither of them is subject to the CRTC.

Fox News

Bill Vallicella (aka The Maverick Philosopher) asked me the other day, "Is it true that the Fox News Network is not available in Canada? Why are Canadians so big on socialized medicine? What's your take on it?" Since you asked, Fox News is coming to Canada, finally, and it has the chattering classes at McLeans (Canada's version of Time), all aflutter. Our broadcasting regulations are handled by a Federal body called the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) and that body has finally given the OK. Earlier, the CRTC had ruled that Canada already had enough American news networks and did not need more. We do have CNN and MSNBC among others. The problem is that the CRTC's regulation stems from the days when nobody had cable and it was seen as prudent to allocate the radio spectrum in such a way that there was diversity on the dial; diversity that it was said capitalism could never provide. I'm not sure about dates, but I think this would have been back in the 1950's. Today, however, almost everybody has cable and bandwidth is not an issue. We still have the CRTC, and it does do some good things, like keep hate off of our airwaves, except that we are very close to having Al Jezeera on cable. It seems that the CRTC, staffed by good Liberals no doubt, can't seem to find a way to convince itself that keeping Al Jezeera out isn't discriminatory. I know, I know, the only remaining point to the CRTC's existence is to discriminate among what ought not be permitted, and it can't justify itself to itself. The mind boggles. They settled for saying that it would be allowed, permitted [tedious legal clauses here]. The Canadian cable companies said there was no way they could comply with those clauses because it would make the service unprofitable. Basically the CRTC said they want the cable companies to do something like delay the transmission and drop it altogether if something "bad" should be aired. It sure looks like the CRTC went to great lengths (buck passing) to prove they have no balls. About Health Care- there just isn't space. Liberals can't stand suffering and they think the state is capable of anything it puts its mind to. That's about as good as I can do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The wise, the 'stupid' and the incoherent

Epistemology John at Fides Quaerens Intellectum has an interesting series of posts in which he discusses how our beliefs might be justified. I am enjoying the posts quite a bit. I have not commented to this point because it is a subject that I have not encountered before (my degree was in English Literature and Mass Communications, not philosophy) and I'm loath to put a foot in my mouth so publicly. But maybe I can dip a toe in. I like the stance that John is backing, called Foundationalism. The main alternative, as far as my own quick searches have been able to find, is called Coherentism. Despite never hearing of either term until I saw them on John's blog, I have thought about them under other names. For instance, I dislike Rationalism (of which Coherentism would be a sub heading) because it seems to me to be inherently troubled. My objection is a common one:
there is no obvious way in which a coherent system relates to anything that might exist outside of it. So, it may be possible to construct a coherent theory of the world, which does not correspond to what actually occurs in the world. In other words, it appears to be entirely possible to develop a system that is entirely coherent and yet entirely untrue.
According to the Wikkipedia, Coherentists respond by saying that "any substantial system that was not true would by definition contain some contradictions, and so be incoherent." To which I have to ask, how does anybody claim to know that? How does anyone justify that? It's a pretty hocus pocus claim, as far as I can see. To its credit, I think that Christianity rejects Coherentism with the doctrine of original sin. Christians reject the idea that we truly know the world "as it is." Our thinking and our senses are not capable of knowing ontological reality and the church insists we admit it because if we don't it leads to Pride. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (hat tip: Mark Shea)
675 Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. 676 The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
Pretty heavy stuff. We are not to seek perfection on earth because, due to our imperfect knowledge and morals, we are certain to muck it up and bring calamity on our heads. Hmm, the experience of the 20th Century efforts to that end seem to back the Church, don't they? It is no coincidence that Rationalism is associated with the political Left, and that the Left hates the Church. It is about Foundationalism that John is writing and about which I am now curious. As I haven't read or thought about it much, I can't really say a lot. I seems to me that there must be certain things that are the building blocks of knowledge, which knowledge cannot prove because to do so would a circular argument. And if this is so, then it must be irrational to doubt them. Off the top of my head, I'd suggest the existence of God is such a thing; if there is no God there can be no claim to know anything well or badly. From God's existence I would derive that morality is a real and objective thing, although we know the details only dimly. J.S. Mill once famously referred to the conservatives of his day as "the stupid party," and it is a title that conservatives have held aloft with pride ever since. They embrace it not because they think being stupid is a grand thing, but because in their minds there are some things about which only the stupid doubt (or better: the unwise). For the title of the post, I have to ask the forgiveness of Clint Eastwood.

Monday, October 11, 2004

A Double Standard

Truth Claims The Maverick Philosopher is a very wise man:
The point is that for a typical religious claim R and a typical political claim P, there is what I will call evidential parity: R and P are on a par with respect to the question of whether or not there is sufficient evidence for their truth. Therefore, either there is insufficient evidence for both R and P, or there is sufficient evidence for both R and P. What cannot be allowed as true is what van Inwagen calls the Difference Thesis, namely, that religious claims are different from non-religious claims in respect of their belief-worthiness. Accepting the Difference Thesis is just to employ a double standard. One sets religious beliefs a test they cannot possibly pass, all the while exempting our other beliefs from this exacting standard.
Also from the Maverick- a Stanford grad proves that HATE is alive and well on the campus and it gets a big soft pass from the media. Apparently in the snot world of big US Universities, advocating the killing people because they disagree with you is A-OK. I missed that memo. It just goes to prove that a university degree proves nothing, no matter the "stature" of the school. Stanford boy's argument is full of piss and more holes than ten pound block of swiss cheese. I can't wait to see his book in the remainder bin at Zellers.

The Big Tent

no "small c" I see that Ben and Flea and a few others are taking a swing at a group Blog called Urban Conservative. I think this is a great idea and I wish them every success. The new blog is not what I want to write about here, however. Reading it over only reminded me of some thinking I've been doing about North Western Winds. When you start a blog, you have some ideas of what it might be and who might be interested in reading it. You expect it might not turn out just like you thought and you might find yourself changing things just a bit as readership information comes in. There have been surprises indeed. I'm surprised that I seem to enjoy doing longer posts, even if I can't do them every day. I'm surprised - and pleased - that people seem to enjoy those longer, more philosophical posts. I still plan to do the short ones, just maybe not three or more in a day. I'm surprised that I've hooked up with a likeable group of conservative Canadian bloggers, proving that Canadian-ness and conservative-ness are not ideas in opposition. I'm surprised that no one has lashed into me on a socially conservative post. I still think that last concern is a real one and that it is coming, given where our courts are. They are so confident that they can overturn a centuries old institution- marriage- that they just dismiss concerns put before them. Their questioning of conservatives defending the status quo indicates that they think it is the defense, and not the rebellion, that needs to meet the burden of proof. I think they are justified in their reading of the Canadian public and that is why I feel a lashing is inevitable. The pillars of this blog are, as I see them: 1) the life of a tail end Gen X male, living on the west coast 2) of Canada. 3) The conversion of that male from an agnostic public school education that was hostile to religious ideas, which he did buy into for 25 years or so, to orthodox Catholicism. 4) The intelligent defense of religious ideas, by showing that in thought and action some sort of a religious base is always present, even if it is not acknowledged. 5) Demonstrating that tradition, and not rationalism, is the best base from which to generate the necessarily religious axioms that are the fertile soil of a free society. I'm not trying to turn everyone into a 'papist.' That would take more wattage and charisma than I can muster even on my best days. I am trying to show that Canadian conservatives need to think in terms of the "Big Tent." For conservatives to begin to reform Canada will require a reformation of the culture. That and only that will substantially change the politics. The opposite approach can't properly be called conservative, even if it favours traditionally conservative ideas of small government and so on. It's the old ends justifying the means problem and any success found that way is bound to be short term - possibly as short as one election term. Change the culture and you fundamentally change the terms of the debate. A changed culture will put the brakes on what your opposition can do even while they are in power. North Western Winds is a a bit of an odd bird. It has a good number of Canadian readers, but not too many religious ones (that I'm aware of). It's a bit of a struggle to try and appeal to mainstream readers by defending social conservatism. American readers are much more tolerant but often not very interested in Canada or Canadians. Keeping those three things tied together promises to be a challenge. In the end, though, it's about a culture in which one doesn't have to resort to the euphemism of "small c" conservativism. That kind of culture requires that we don't forget where we come from or what we stand for. In my own small way, that's what this blog is about.

Darn

I think my computer has a virus- it is acting very oddly. It's not affecting Firefox so I can blog, but until I get this straightened out my time might be a bit short. Not to mention my mood. On a better note, happy Thanksgiving to all the Canucks out there, especially the Red Ensign Brigade!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

A Kerry Vote means it gets worse

David Warren writes:

If... a President Kerry were to take the Americans out of Iraq, mission unaccomplished as in Vietnam, we would see a storm-tide of Islamist triumphalism, and the belief would quickly spread through the Muslim world that an aggressive, Jihadist, politico-religious Islamism is the wave of the future. The same, of course, would happen if a President Bush did that. But everything we know about the man suggests he wouldn't.

The upcoming US election is important, even more so than usual. If there are better candidates than GW Bush - and there could be- they are not on the ballot. I hope the Americans will vote accodingly. If the vote took place in Canada, there would be very little to be hopeful about. Sad but true.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Logical Suicide

Jacques Derrida dies from cancer Via Maverick Philosopher, I learned that Jacques Derrida passed away today. Gosh, I really really dislike his theories and as hard as it is to believe, his writing is even worse. Some of the most awful, crabbed things I ever read came from the mind of dear Jacques. His thinking is incoherent nonsense and yet he managed to puff out his chest in a way that makes pin-head art farts swoon. I still shake my head at all the English profs I had who, when confronted by many, many students about what a waste of time Derrida was, just repeated as nauseeum, "Yes, well, we must address him and not just dismiss him and no one has done that..." It leaves a rank taste in my mouth still; it is one of the reasons I never pursued a Masters Degree. I became convinced that it would be a waste of time, money and effort. Nothing has happened in the last ten years to change my mind. Deconstruction - Pffffttt!!!

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Red Ensign

Taylor and Co., the best looking blog in the Red Ensign Brigade, have the latest round up of what's been happening under the Red Ensign. Check it out. They even called me a "though provoking spanker." Hey! You in the back - that's not funny.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Mistress

I think it was one of Chesterton's books - don't ask me which, he wrote lots - in which he employs this pithy conversation to make his point. One old gent says to another, "I've been having second thoughts about religion." To which the second man replies, "So you have a mistress. Why didn't you say so?" Chesterton's point, of course, is that even the deepest seeming and most complex rationalizations often have their roots in the mundane. Another of Chesterton's images involves an explanation for why the Catholic Church is so strict about some things - life issues, mostly. He asks us to imagine a playground high on a precipice, with walls around it to keep the children from falling over the cliffs on all four sides. Inside the walls there is as much freedom and fun as could be desired. The Church's strictest teachings, he suggests, are like the walls of that playground. If you take them down, you have not increased the fun or the freedom, and you have increased the danger dramatically. I bring up these two stories because I want to discuss abortion, and I want to try and show that objecting to it does not make me a theocratic threat to liberal democracy. I wrote here a while back about Sunday shopping and how, even though I think keeping one day a week aside for community and family is a good thing, I think it is ultimately a private matter. Abortion is not like that. Abortion is always a human issue, and not a private one. People who favour "choice" always proceed something like this: 1) They will describe a terrible problem of some kind, and then suggest that abortion is the solution. When objections are raised, they might admit that other solutions are possible, but they will not allow you to rule abortion out. 2) When they are asked how it is that abortion is not murder, they say that early stage babies are not really human. When asked at what point the unborn become human, the "choice" advocate says that no one really knows, but only if you really really press them. The implication is that because we don't know, it's ok to act with impunity. And they use the word know in a specific sense, and will fight like mad to deny that any other form of knowledge is possible. It is a fact that there are two methods of knowledge - deduction and induction. More on this later. Virtually all of the problems that abortion is supposed to solve have other solutions. I mean, think about it, humans have been on the earth for thousands of years without access to safe abortion. Overpopulation? Food crisis? No one knows how many people the earth can support. No one. It's a bit like global warming. "We have computer projections." To which the answer is, do you know what GIGO means? The poor in the wealthy parts of the world generally don't go hungry. We have food banks and welfare and lots of charities giving away food. The food is there. In poor parts of the world, the problem is violent political cultures that see nothing wrong with using food scarcity as a weapon to control populations. Sometimes the baby is unplanned or unwanted. In that case, there is always the option of adoption, which for some mysterious reason, always gets downgraded from the "choice" crowd. They never seem to like admitting that there are long waiting lists for babies to adopt. I have first hand experience here. The "choice" people will cry that before abortion was legalized, 10,000 women died every year from unsafe abortions. Never mind that 10,000 women is huge number, it boggles the mind that this could go on for years and no one noticed until a small group agitating for legal abortion started bandying that number about. The problem is that one of those doctors has recanted and said that no one knew at the time how many women were dying, but his group needed a number to galvanize support - so they made it up. The real reason that abortion is such a thorny issue that the ontological status of the fetus is so mysterious. There are many arguments for and against abortion, and too many of them are circular. They assume what they are trying to prove, namely that the unborn are or are not humans with a right to exist. I'll be honest here. There is no deductive proof that are the unborn are humans. I have more bad news. There is no proof that anyone other than ourself exists. There is a theory in philosophy called solipsism, which states that we cannot know conclusively that anyone else really exists. The Wikkipedia says of Solipsism, that it is: "logically coherent, but not falsifiable, so it cannot be established (or disproved) by current modes of the scientific method." So if you want to be a strict deductionist, you have to admit that being born or unborn has nothing to do with the issue. You could argue for the killing of anyone at any time. But there are more problems for the poor "choice" crowd. You see, if you allow only deductive proofs, you can't prove your case. You've put yourself in a position where logic itself is useless because it can't deductively "prove" its worth. So lets stop playing games and admit that there are two ways of knowing things. Induction is not as watertight as deduction but we can't get by without it. It means, simply, that since the sun rose every morning for the past X number of days, that it will probably rise this morning too. Now, it isn't a sure thing, but we do this kind of thing all the time and there is no way around it. How does this apply to the question of abortion? Well, we grant each other personhood despite not being able to prove it deductively. Why does being unborn somehow undo that? There is no point at which we can say- definitively - that the unborn are not human, are not worth consideration like anyone else. So what if they have no nervous system? There is no proof that these things make a person a person. The only sure thing in the abortion debate is that we do not know what we are dealing with. Now since that is the case, it is reckless in the extreme to say we can do whatever we like. No one with any sense rushes into an unknown situation, no matter what kind of life event you care to name. We don't do this in war, in police work, in medicine - in anything - not unless we can't possibly avoid it. And in the matter of abortion, it can be avoided most of the time. It is also not hard to see how one can make arguments against abortion from Darwinism, so I won't dwell on them here except to say that Darwin helps us to see that issues like abortion are never confined "to the bedroom." You can't put more unborn than were killed in most American wars into that box; they won't fit. Finally, I ask you to think about the stories of abortion survivors, to listen to how happy they are to be alive, and to realize that the procedure is not the sterile and clean cut thing it is made out to be. I started this post with two stories from Chesterton. I hope I have shown why the Catholic Church's tough stance on family issues is not one of doom and gloom, but based on an honest and true assessment. The real question is, who or what is this mistress that leads us to look away from answers other than abortion, and to insist that we know more than we do, or to insist that it is a small thing of no importance and affects no one but the mother. I suggest that the Mistress is nothing more than self love. It is the natural outcome of a solopsistic outlook; it is the Liberal Epicurean desire not to be inconvenienced by having to sacrifice anything at all. I'll finish with a bit from Frederica Mathewes-Green, who suggests a sensible way out of this negative loop:
When sexual relations take place in a relationship lacking emotional commitment, any unsought pregnancy is much more likely to be difficult. Abortion allows the Playboy-friendly status quo to continue, disposing of the ties that might bind. The problem is that women's sexuality is deeply tied to commitment and emotional stability, and in this bad bargain women lose. Abortion severs two relationships at once, the woman from her lover and from her child. No wonder pro-choice slogans ring with first-person-singulars: my right, my decision, my body, my choice. The flip side of autonomy is loneliness. Abortion promises to make a woman unfettered, empowered and free; instead she finds herself isolated, endangered and sad. ... Living without abortion means restoring... sexual balance-of-power, with respect for women's need for commitment and security--in short, abstinence before and fidelity within marriage. It also means supporting women who get pregnant nevertheless, with pregnancy care services and adoption counseling.

The restoration Mathews- Green speaks of takes place one person at a time, so let's get started. Do you respect women's sexuality, or the Maxim parody of it? This post has been edited since it first appeared.