Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Objective value

C.S. Lewis and The Green Book Delcan's post about a book he's plumbing at the moment brought to my mind C.S. Lewis' short little book, The Abolition of Man. Lewis wrote it as a response to a modern English primer for school children. Modern, in this case, is the early 1940's. His insights are good and because the book is so short, I'm always recommending it to people when I suspect they are being taken up with the sort of ideas in what Lewis called The Green Book (in an effort to avoid embarassing the authors). This post is something of a continuation of my comments on Delcan's thread today. What Lewis calls 'The Tao' can be likened to what a Catholic would call the Natural Law and Lewis himself points out that he uses the eastern term in an effort to point to the universality of that which he speaks. From The Abolition of Man:
This conception in all it's forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as 'the Tao'. Some of the accounts of it which I have quoted will seem, perhaps, to many of you merely quaint or even magical. But what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. I myself do not enjoy the society of little children: because I recognize this as a defect in myself - just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind. And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it). No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform... Over against this stands the world of The Green Book. In it the very possibility of a sentiment being reasonable - or even unreasonable - has been excluded from the outset. It can be reasonable or unreasonable only if it conforms or fails to conform to something else. To say that the cataract is sublime means saying that our emotion of humility is appropriate or ordinate to the reality, and thus to speak something else besides the emotion; just as to say that a shoe fits is to speak not only of shoes but of feet. But this reference to something beyond the emotion is what Gaius and Titus [pseudonyms for the authors] exclude from every sentence containing a predicate of value. Such statements, for them refer solely to the emotion. Now the emotion, thus considered in itself, cannot be considered either in agreement or disagreement with Reason. It is irrational not as a paralogism is irrational, but as a physical event is irrational: it does not rise even to the dignity of error. On this view, the world of facts, without one trace of value, and the world of feeling, without one trace of falsehood, justice, or injustice, confront one another, and rapprochement is possible. Hence the educational problem is wholly different according as you stand within or without the Tao. For those within, the task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate, whether or anyone is making them or not, and in making which the very nature of man consists. Those without, if they are logical, must regard all sentiments as equally non-rational, as mere mists between us and the real objects. As a result, they must either decide to remove all sentiments, as far as possible, from the pupil's mind; or else to encourage some sentiments for reasons that have nothing to do with their instrinsic 'justness' or 'ordinacy'. The later course involves them in the the questionable process of creating in others by 'suggestion' or incantation a mirage which their own reason has successfully dissipated.
At the close here I suppose Lewis is anticipating books like the one Delcan is reviewing, and also, on the neocon side, authors like Leo Strauss. These are books and authors that do not present proposals about the nature of the Tao; they are books and authors who deny its existence in order to lessen the resistance to their own will. This they present simply as 'truth', without missing the irony that they have already claimed there is no such thing. You're not supposed to notice that, however. I suspect that in a day of such rampant technical specialization, there are simply not enough people even aware of the problem. The issue is not a technical one, it is one of being, and since it's possible to materially rich without it, few care. If you're concerned about issues like judicial over reach, the burden of government, religious freedom, and human dignity, however, you ought to be concerned with it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Other people's values

Still on the subject of the Liberal Party's folly, here is something from C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man:
[Reformers] will be found to hold, with complete uncritical enthusiasm, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated [persons] of the professional classes. Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values; about the values current in their own thought they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional or (as they would say) 'sentimental' values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.
That brings me to a post at The Western Standard that I'd like to echo:
What will the Conservatives do once same-sex marriage is law? Will they go so far as to actually fight to have it repealed? After all, it's one thing to oppose the granting of a "right" in the first place. It's a touch more extreme a position to actually advocate stripping people of those "rights". Are the Tories really willing to go that far? In a word: Yes. The Tories say they plan to continue to campaign against same-sex marriage until they successfully repeal it. To people who love the Tories but hate their same-sex stance, and wish they'd get over it already, that's bad news. But the Conservatives know that same-sex is their winningest issue in a long time.
We bloggers forget that we are NOT representative of the population at large far too often. As Intelligentsia, we are far more prone to give in to various forms of gnosticism, divorcing ideas from the logistic considerations that normally drive people who spend their time working with things. Most of these people don't blog; but they might be persuaded to vote. This is about as settled as abortion, which 30 years on, is still contentious - as bad policy and bad law should be. Just as I go to post, I see that Sinsiter Thoughts has asked me for an opinion. To no one's surprise, I'm very disappointed. I'm also concerned. I want it fixed, but I do not want any ugliness from either side. I have always tried to show compassion and concern where gay issues are concerned, but I do not see how this can work. The needs of a gay pair are so different from that of monogamous straights that I think a customized institution is the way to go. With a one size fits all approach no one will be well served. Look at it like this; people pay big bucks for customized things that suit them better than a mass made product. Why is this principle called discrimination when applied to SSM?

A fine mess

In light of the square-circle Canada seems set to pass very soon, here's a link to an interesting interview with Jim Hughes, president of the Canadian national pro-life organization, Campaign Life Coalition (CLC). You'll never read this in the Globe and Mail, and rarely will it be heard in National Post.
Q: It's astonishing that Prime Ministers Trudeau, Turner, Mulroney, Clark, Chretien and now Martin, all Catholics and most from Quebec, have all, in varying degrees, supported the these radical social changes. How do you account for this? A: Well, I cannot account for it. I hear people saying that the problems occurred on the Catholic side after Vatican II, but in reality the problems occurred and were created by people, such as those prime ministers, who attended Latin Mass, people who were brought up on the Baltimore Catechism learning the truths of the faith by rote. Those are the people who were the architects of all of this stuff. They've rejected their faith and have lived like devout pagans, as some have described this behaviour. I guess they just didn't understand their faith or didn't believe it and they ushered in what is known as cafeteria Catholicism and so that's part of the main problem. We were told by many people in the Church not to judge, "don't judge others". This crept into the school system and instead of having young people trained on what is right and what is wrong, the emphasis became what feels good and in your own conscience, "what do you think is right"? That all goes back to Winnipegitis, that is, the Winnipeg Statement of 1968, with the Canadian Catholic bishops failing to support the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical on human life. All of the decisions since then, in large part, can be traced back to a loss of faith. There are no objective standards of morality. It's all how you feel. Every one of these prime ministers have reflected those changes. As well, we are constantly seeing mainline churches running to protect their charitable tax status and avoiding the crucial issues because they might offend members of their congregations and might affect their ability to raise funds for their extended programs.
I'm not sure it's fair to blame Canadian Catholics for this turn of affairs. The PMs listed might tell us more about Quebec's influence in Canadian politics than it does Catholics. After all, there has been a fair share of nuttiness from Episcopals as well as other churches. Unity and courage will do us a lot more good than finger pointing.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Secret Admirer's club

I've been memed again. This once was started by James Bow, and the tag that got me was from Greg at Sinister Thoughts. The way this works is that I name three people with whom I disagree a lot, and then I find something to admire about them. As I understand it, I'm not limited to other bloggers on my three disagreeables. I am planning to use bloggers, however, because the truth is that I have very little to say about, for example, the leaders of any Canadian party other than the CPC. Now, that hardly means I think Steven Harper and the CPC are the best thing that ever was - although I do like Harper, even with some some admitted faults. I don't have grand, overarching aims for my government. I'm a steady as she goes, kind of guy, and that I think is best represented by the CPC and by no one else, if I'm being honest. I don't try to achieve my personal ragnarok through Federalism. The Liberals, as much as I utterly loathe their current leader and this current administration, would be second. All political parties are Janus-faced and if a CPC party were as awful and long in the tooth as the Liberals today, I would look to them to lead because they are capable of doing this - to some degree, anyway, when they're not drunk on power and lead by a grasping fool. Oops. I'm supposed to be nice here. Thankfully, it's (much) easier to say nice things about real people. I might as well start with the man who tagged me. Now, I don't know Greg at all well. And in a debate about how something should be achieved, we have a tough time agreeing on much. He always conducts himself with class, however, and with composure about nine times out of ten - a record that is probably better than my own. Interestingly, we are both Catholic. I'm going through a long process of conversion that is very nearly over, and Greg went to a Catholic school and has never formally left the faith. We both seem to have a longing for a perfect justice, a kind of tender longing verging on brokenheartedness that I don't often sense in others. Where I'm a more traditional Catholic who sees the world as a hospital for sinners, Greg is not one to let history or the wisdom of many override his passion to see that the present is not overlooked. He's an interesting sparring partner because he's able to stay focused on the topic at hand without getting into personal attacks. In someone as passionate as he appears to be, this is a excellent quality and much to his credit. My only real wish for change here is that he consider becoming better informed about economics, in order to spare wasted effort on topics in which good studies and models have been done to show that the unintended consequences of a proposal very often outweigh the good that is being sought through intervention. So, for Greg I recommend Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. It's a quick read, and worthwhile. I pick on Andrew too much and on Pete not enough. Peter is Andrew's brother; a little younger, a little more left (maybe even more than a little). He's a regular reader and commenter here, which has me scratching my head from time to time. What's the attraction to this "so con" book blog? I don't really know but if I had to guess it would be that he's a good student and very curious, enough so that he's willing to check out a blog like this, rather than take for granted that someone like me is crazy and / or an incarnation of evil. He's a wonderful contrast to a commenter on Ben's blog who called me a "wiccan Nazi" for trying to articulate traditional Catholic teaching on the subject of abortion. That's hysterically funny, but a bit sad too. It reveals a mind that might be pretty tightly shut to hearing anything unfamiliar. Such wide reading in a young man is likely to pay off in wisdom and moderation, especially if combined with experiences of the same sort of variety (dare I say calibre?). The dawn does look promising. For Peter, I'll recommend Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. My last pick is Peter (not to be confused with Pete). Peter is from the Fraser Valley, just like yours truly. At the moment he's a philosophy student in Waterloo, Ontario, which is a long, long way from here. Peter is thoughtful and interesting in his writing, tackling subjects that I would otherwise be less likely to read. That said, Peter's starting points are a bit hard for me to understand at times - he's a left leaning Christian, which is a position I have difficulty putting together mentally. That may very well be a shortcoming on my part. I don't think Canadian Christians are bound to vote a certain party; I do have trouble reconciling the faith with where most of the parties are today. I find Peter's choice, the socialist NDP, far too quick to claim the right to coerce those who disagree with it. I look forward to seeing what Peter has to say on these subjects in the future, and I respect that I might pick up something useful from his blog. Peter, like Pete and Greg, brings a cool head and an interesting perspective to the debate when he chooses to join in. For Peter, I'll recommend C.S. Lewis' analysis of left trends in education - The Abolition of Man. The victims I'll tag for this meme are all three of the above, and to make five I'll add The Tiger in Exile and Pete's brother at Bound by Gravity.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Myths of Divine Command

This article by Robert P. George reads like a preview of his book, The Clash of Orthodoxies. It should be good reading for anyone who thinks all of religion is defended only by claims to divine command, or "revelation." Yeah, that might cover some of the folks with "hidden agenda" on their tongue whenever the CPC is mentioned. George sets out to take on The Myth:
Orthodox secularism promotes the myth that there is only one basis for disbelieving its tenets: namely, the claim that God has revealed propositions contrary to these tenets. Most orthodox secularists would have us believe that their positions are fully and decisively vindicated by reason and therefore can be judged to have been displaced only on the basis of irrational or, at least, nonrational faith. They assert that they have the reasonable position; any claims to the contrary must be based on unreasoned faith. Secularists are in favor of a "religious freedom" that allows everyone to believe as he wishes, but claims based on this "private faith" must not be the grounds of public policy. Policy must be based on what secularists have lately come to call "public reason." Interestingly, there have been two different lines of response by religious people... [1] Some concede that religious and even moral judgments depend on faith that cannot be rationally grounded, but they argue that secularism itself is based on a nonrational faith, that secularism must, in the end, also rest on metaphysical and moral claims that cannot be proved. In that way, they suggest, secularism is just like religion, and is not entitled to any special standing that would qualify it as the nation's public philosophy. In fact, its standing would be less than that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, since it is not the tradition upon which the country was founded. On this account, secularism itself is a sectarian doctrine and, as such, is incapable of fulfilling its own demands of being accessible to "public reason." [2] A second response by people of faith to the myth promoted by orthodox secularism is to affirm the demand for public reasons for public policies and offer to do battle with secularism on the field of rational debate. Those who take this view tend to agree that secularism is itself a sectarian doctrine, but they claim that religious faith, and especially religiously informed moral judgment, can be based upon and defended by appeal to publicly accessible reasons. Indeed, they argue that sound religious faith and moral theology will be informed, in part, by insight into the authentic and fully public reasons provided by principles of natural law and natural justice. These principles are available for rational affirmation by people of good will and sound judgment, even apart from their revelation by God in the Scriptures and in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Based on this view, it is possible for Christians to join forces with believing Jews, Muslims, and people from other religious traditions who share a commitment to the sanctity of human life and to other moral principles.
Here is another rebuttal. Brian W. Harrison asked himself the question much of Liberalism stands on: "If all the 'experts' on Truth—the great theologians, historians, philosophers—disagreed interminably with each other, then how did God, if He was really there, expect me, an ordinary Joe Blow, to work out what was true?" I'll quote Harrison at length because political debate gets terribly distorted in the wake of errors that arise because of The Myth. We wind up talking right past one another, both as friends and as opponents. Harris shares some of his struggle to find a method of working through the maze of epistemology:
The more I became enmeshed in specific questions of Biblical interpretation—of who had the right understanding of justification, of the Eucharist, Baptism, grace, Christology, Church government and discipline, and so on—the more I came to feel that this whole line of approach was a hopeless quest, a blind alley. These were all questions that required a great deal of erudition, learning, competence in Biblical exegesis, patristics, history, metaphysics, ancient languages—in short, scholarly research. But was it really credible (I began to ask myself) that God, if He were to reveal the truth about these disputed questions at all, would make this truth so inaccessible that only a small scholarly elite had even the faintest chance of reaching it? Wasn’t that a kind of gnosticism? Where did it leave the nonscholarly bulk of the human race? It didn’t seem to make sense. If, as they say, war is too important to be left to the generals, then revealed truth seemed too important to be left to the Biblical scholars. It was no use saying that perhaps God simply expected the non-scholars to trust the scholars. How were they to know which scholars to trust, given that the scholars all contradicted each other? Therefore, in my efforts to break out of the dense exegetical undergrowth where I could not see the wood for the trees, I shifted towards a new emphasis in my truth-seeking criteria: I tried to get beyond the bewildering mass of contingent historical and linguistic data upon which the rival exegetes and theologians constructed their doctrinal castles, in order to concentrate on those elemental, necessary principles of human thought which are accessible to all of us, learned and unlearned alike. In a word, I began to suspect that an emphasis on logic, rather than on research, might expedite an answer to my prayers for guidance. The advantage was that you don’t need to be learned to be logical. You need not have spent years amassing mountains of information in libraries in order to apply the first principles of reason. You can apply them from the comfort of your armchair, so to speak, in order to test the claims of any body of doctrine, on any subject whatsoever, that comes claiming your acceptance. Moreover logic, like mathematics, yields firm certitude, not mere changeable opinions and provisional hypotheses. Logic is the first natural "beacon of light" with which God has provided us as intelligent beings living in a world darkened by the confusion of countless conflicting attitudes, doctrines and world-views, all telling us how to live our lives during this brief time that is given to us here on earth. Logic of course has its limits. Pure "armchair" reasoning alone will never be able to tell you the meaning of your life and how you should live it. But as far as it goes, logic is an indispensable tool, and I even suspect that you sin against God, the first Truth, if you knowingly flout or ignore it in your thinking. "Thou shalt not contradict thyself" seems to me an important precept of the natural moral law. Be that as it may, I found that the main use of logic, in my quest for religious truth, turned out to be in deciding not what was true, but what was false. If someone presents you with a system of ideas or doctrines which logical analysis reveals to be coherent—that is, free from internal contradictions and meaningless absurdities—then you can conclude, "This set of ideas may be true. It has at least passed the first test of truth—the coherence test." To find out if it actually is true you will then have to leave your logician’s armchair and seek further information. But if it fails this most elementary test of truth, it can safely be eliminated without further ado from the ideological competition, no matter how many impressive-looking volumes of erudition may have been written in support of it, and no matter how attractive and appealing many of its features (or many of its proponents) may appear. Some readers may wonder why I am laboring the point about logic. Isn’t all this perfectly obvious? Well, it ought to be obvious to everyone, and is indeed obvious to many, including those who have had the good fortune of receiving a classical Catholic education. Catholicism, as I came to discover, has a quite positive approach to our natural reasoning powers, and traditionally has its future priests study philosophy for years before they even begin theology. But I came from a religious milieu where this outlook was not encouraged, and was often even discouraged. The Protestant Reformers taught that original sin has so weakened the human intellect that we must be extremely cautious about the claims of "proud reason." Luther called reason the "devil’s whore"—a siren which seduced men into grievous error. "Don’t trust your reason, just bow humbly before God’s truth revealed to you in His holy Word, the Bible!"—this was pretty much the message that came through to me from the Calvinist and Lutheran circles that influenced me most in the first few years after I made my "decision for Christ" at the age of 18. The Reformers themselves were forced to employ reason even while denouncing it, in their efforts to rebut the Biblical arguments of their "Papist" foes. And that, it seemed to me, was rather illogical on their part.
Harris' admission that some religious do throw in the logical towel is important. It will be hard for us to get the world to pay us any attention if we proceed like that. This lack of seriousness - of fidelity to God's creation - creates division among Christians and even between Christians and other religions. Division makes us weak and in so doing, allows a lot of terrible things to happen.

David Warren

It's no secret that David Warren is - by far - my favourite newspaper columnist in Canada. Cosh and Coyne can be fun or interesting but perhaps not both at once. Steyn is funny and accurate but sometimes a wee bit too rapid fire for my tastes. Warren also adds levels of maturity and depth that are remarkable in someone who works in the go go world of modern media. Here are snippets from three of his most recent columns, proof that his short rest served him well. From "In Praise of Slow":
Not everything done fast is a mistake. There are flukes. There are geniuses who move at speed with a kind of perfect pitch in whatever form of music they are making. Such people will never be statistically significant. More familiar is the phenomenon of El Thicko moving at speed, to legislate something in the long train from social assistance to no-fault divorce” to “same-sex marriage” -- with a million arbitrary and ill-considered acts of government regulation in between (most designed to ameliorate the effects of previous legislation). To a man of slow wit, such as myself, it makes no sense to rush into something before considering unintended consequences. And verily, such a review would have eliminated most of what our governments have done since, say, 1945. I mean this seriously: that almost everything a government does, that is not a specific response to a potential or actual catastrophe, is likely to prove counter-productive over time. Unfortunately, the fast-witted people have been redefining catastrophe” until it has come to mean opposition to anything they want to do next.
From "A Letter to Quebec":
Let me begin by telling you what I don't want to say. I don't want to say, "I wuv you." Especially, visitors from Ontario have been telling you this, whenever they've felt you were getting uppity. They are like the unfortunate husband, who does not realize that his wife hates him. ... I am speaking to you from a province that truly doesn't get it. We don't get that you've had enough. We don't get the degree to which you are tired, not only of the corruption, but of the sheer malice of the Liberal Party. They are getting about equally tired in the West. And according to the polls, we, in Ontario, have decided the Liberal Party must stay, for reasons of "national unity". In other words, the Liberals have become the separatist party of Ontario. In other words, the Liberals have set things up with Ontario, so the only way to shake them off is by leaving the country. Canada's most talented people do that every day; now it becomes the turn of the provinces. As you perhaps noticed, my analogy was incomplete. Ontario is in some sort of weird old Mormon or Arabian marriage, in which there are several wives. Were it not for the oil dowry that came with Alberta, we would have trouble paying for them all. That Alberta also, increasingly, wants out of the marriage should be no surprise to either of us: there is nothing in it for them, whatever. We just take their money, they get nothing in return, unless you count spousal abuse. The Liberals and our "national" (i.e. the Toronto) media dump all over Alberta. They use the word "Canadian" specifically to exclude them.
I think that one of the things I least want is to loved by Ontarians. I already have parents, thanks. From "Creation Science":
Dr. Jastrow -- unquestionably an accomplished astronomer -- says that prior to Edwin Hubble'’s demonstrations of deep galactic fields at the Mount Wilson observatory in the 1920s, scientists believed the universe was no bigger than the galaxy in which the earth happens to be located. This is simply not true. For centuries before this, and among the diehards for several decades after, scientists assumed the universe is infinite. It was Hubble who ultimately established that it isn't. This fact is significant because, underlying both the old ideas about physical cosmology, and Darwin'’s quaint theory of evolution by natural selection, was the notion that random evolutionary processes had as much time as they needed to occur. This was necessary to avoid the question of creation”. But now that we know they didnĂ‚’t, the question of creation swims, despite the best efforts of “scientists, directly into view.
More on The Priveleged Planet.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

It isn't easy

There is a terrific post here. It doesn't lend itself to being quoted so all I can do is say it's worth it. Faith is a struggle. It means looking the world square in the eye; all the blood, all the sickness, all the insanity. There is a type of Christian who gives the air of being above, or perhaps beyond all of that. Maybe the turmoil is simply too personal to share, or maybe they feel they can't do it justice. Or maybe there's a bit of pride involved. I think the job of being credible in our conversation with others who don't share the faith is aided by a bit of candour. If we suggest that the world is more spit and shine than it is, who can blame them for thinking that we are loopy dreamers? Dryness does happen. With perseverance it can propel us forward. It can do that, but it isn't easy. ***** For a much funnier story, try this. Thanks to Francis Poretto for both links.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The dust from his feet

One summer afternoon in the year 1054, as a service was about to begin in the Church of the Holy Wisdom' (Hagia Sophia) at Constantinople, Cardinal Humbert and two other legates of the Pope entered the building and made their way up to the sanctuary. They had not come to pray. They placed a Bull of Excommunication upon the altar and marched out once more. As he passed through the western door, the Cardinal shook the dust from his feet with the words: 'Let God look and judge.' A deacon ran out after him in great distress and begged him to take back the Bull. Humbert refused; and it was dropped in the street. It is this incident which has conventionally been taken to mark the beginning of the great schism between the Orthodox east and the Latin west.
So begins an interesting history of the first Christian schism at this site for Orthodox Christians (Orthodox in this case meaning the Eastern Orthodox Church). It's interesting to see this story from another angle. One can understand the upset over the sacking of Constaninople, but that was 1204 and apologies ought to cover that by now. The question of the filoque is tougher. I understand it was an addition to the creed, but I don't see how it is that some see it as heretical. It is helpful in rebutting Arianism, which has been a perennial issue that Christians have had to rebut. Arianism is the idea that Christ was only a man; the latest incarnation of this very old idea is Dan Brown's novel, The DaVinci Code. Poor little me, seeing all the interest and fuss Brown's novel has generated, thinks that retaining the filoque still makes sense. It's like Tolkien said in that letter I posted about yesterday, "my church was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant) which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history - the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set." I guess my question is, how do the Orthodox deal with Arianism?

Simple isn't simple

Tolkien and 'Simple' faith From a letter from J.J.R. Tolkien to his son:
The... search backwards for 'simplicity' and directness - which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain. Because 'primitive' Christianity is now and in spite of all 'research' will remain ever largely unknown; because 'primitiveness' is no guarantee of value, and is and was in great part a reflection of ignorance. Grave abuses were as much an element in Christian 'liturgical' behavior from the beginning as now. (St. Paul's strictures on Eucharistic behavior are sufficient to show this!) Still more because 'my church' was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant) which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history - the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set. There is no resemblance between the 'mustard seed' and the full grown tree. For those living in the days of its branching growth the Tree the thing, for the history of a living thing is sacred. The wise may know that it began as a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exits, and the virtue and the powers it had now reside in the Tree. Very good; but in husbandry the authorities, the keepers of the Tree, must look after it, according to such wisdom as they possess, prune it, remove cankers, rid it of parasites, and so forth. (With trepidation, knowing how little their knowledge of growth is!) But they will certainly do harm, if they are obsessed with the desire of going back to the seed or even to the first youth of the plant when it was (as they imagine) pretty and unafflicted by evils.
Taken from Tolkien: Man and Myth, by Joseph Pearce More on Tolkien here. There is an interview with Pearce on the subject of Tolkien here. There are many reasons I must, at times, respectfully step back from friends in the various Protestant branches of the faith, and this is surely one of the larger ones. Sola Fide is not the sticking point for me that Sola Scriptura is. In the first principle, much depends on how one understands the words 'faith' and 'works'. But Sola Scriptura makes no sense to me, for this and other reasons:
Sola scriptura [becomes highly problematic as soon as] the Protestant [is asked] to explain how the books of the Bible got into the Bible. Under the Sola Scriptura rubric, Scripture exists in an absolute epistemological vacuum, since it and the veracity of its contents "dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church." If that's true, how then can anyone know with certitude what belongs in Scripture in the first place? The answer is, you can't. Without recognizing the trustworthiness of the Magisterium, endowed with Christ's own teaching authority (c.f., Matt. 16:18-19, 18:18; Luke 10:16} guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26; 16:13), and the living apostolic Tradition of the Church (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Timothy 2:2), there is no way to know for certain which books belong in Scripture and which do not. As soon as Protestants begin to appeal to the canons drawn up by this or that Father, or this or that council, they immediately concede defeat, since they are forced to appeal to the very "testimony of man and Church" that they claim to not need.
Epistemologically speaking, there's no getting around a leap of faith as the first step in any effort at knowledge building. Every syllogism has ultimate premises that we either assent to or not. Do we believe in formal logic at all? How about Reason itself? The certitude sought by Sola Scriptura is a phantom. This lack of ultimate rational objectivity can be a terrifying thought. Post Moderns reject it and say we live in a funhouse world in which knowledge is not truly possible. The rest of us probably can't be convinced that that idea is either true or fun, and so we make a leap this way or that, very often unaware that we have done so at all. Then there's the other issues - it doesn't appear in the Bible; there was no printing press until long after Christ; and, finally, it's fruit has been schism after schism. I think this last quote is resoundingly true; one of the great unrecognized truths behind an awful lot of political conflict today:
The schizoid history of Protestantism itself bears witness to the original inner contradiction which marked its conception and birth. Conservative Protestants have maintained the original insistence on the Bible as the unique infallible source of revealed truth, at the price of logical incoherence. Liberals on the other hand have escaped the incoherence while maintaining the claim to "private interpretation" over against that of Popes and Councils, but at the price of abandoning the Reformers’ insistence on an infallible Bible. They thereby effectively replace revealed truth by human opinion, and faith by an autonomous reason. Thus, in the liberal/evangelical split within Protestantism since the 18th century, we see both sides teaching radically opposed doctrines, even while each claims to be the authentic heir of the Reformation. The irony is that both sides are right: their conflicting beliefs are simply the two horns of a dilemma, which has been tearing at the inner fabric of Protestantism ever since its turbulent beginnings.
See also here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Liberals and Gnosticism

Via my blogging friend Ilona, I came across this intriguing essay by a blogger I haven't bumped into before. I don't want to comment on it too much because I'm not overly familiar with one half of his comparison of Gnosticism and Liberalism. I'll throw it out to readers and wait to hear comments. I know I have at least one reader who is very knowledgeable in that area, and I hope he might share some thoughts. Here's a snip of Dr. Bob's commentary:
Gnosticism as a religion is ancient - predating Christianity by at least several centuries, and coexisting with it for several more before dying out. It was in many ways a syncretic belief system, drawing elements from virtually every religion it touched: Buddhism, Indian pantheism, Greek philosophy and myth, Jewish mysticism, and Christianity. Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis, to know, or knowledge) was manifested in many forms and sects, but all shared common core beliefs: dualism, wherein the world was evil and the immaterial good; the importance of secret knowledge, magical in nature, by which those possessing such knowledge could overcome the evil of the material world; and pantheism. It was also a profoundly pessimistic belief system. ... There is a disconnect in liberalism between belief and action. As a result, there is no such thing as hypocrisy. So the National Organization of Women, tireless in its campaign on violence against women, sexual harassment, and the tyranny of men in the workplace and in society, stands wholeheartedly behind Bill Clinton, who used a dim-witted intern for sex (in the workplace, moreover!) and who was credibly charged with sexual assault on Juanita Brodderick. Hypocrisy? No, Bill Clinton “understood” women and women’s issues– his knowledge trumped his behavior, no matter how despicable. ... The profound pessimism of the Gnostic world view is seen in contemporary liberalism as well. If ever there was a gentle giant in history–a nation overwhelmingly dominant yet benign in its use of power–it is the United States of the 20th and 21st century. Yet we are treated to an endless litany of tirades about our racist, sexist, imperialist ways, which will only end when the Left “takes America back”–ignoring that a nation so administered would cease to exist in short order. American liberalism was not always so. As recently as twenty years ago, it was optimistic, hopeful and other-oriented, albeit with misconceptions about human nature which proved the undoing of its policies and programs. Only at its farthest fringes did pessimism reign, but today this dark view is increasingly the dominant one.
There is a follow up post here, that has more to do with the nature of religion than anything in the post I've highlighted. Still, it's interesting and well written. There are two things about this post that interest me. One is the idea that there are only so many thoughts that can be thunk; they seem to mix and match and put on new clothes over time but by and by, today's issues are in many ways not so different from yesterday's. I suspect there is more truth in that than anyone could take comfort in. I am also struck, like the doctor, about too many progressives' ambivalence about means. If we really are confronting the same old problems, adhering to time tested means has got to be the best way of squaring the circle of how it is we are all going to get along. If the ends are continuing to elude us after all this time (and I'm talking about 1,000's of years here, not something as puny as an election cycle), then means are all we have. We have to get them right, and then preserve that knowledge. Incidentally, one of the marvels of the Mass is that it drives this home. At the Eucharistic table, everyone approaches based on how they've acted. Success and wealth, power and intellect, those things are not of merit there. Thus the mighty are brought low, and the low are raised up. Fidelity and love of the Law is the key, and a talent (such as intellect) is not an accomplishment.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Francis De Sales, from The Introduction to the Devout Life
Of Desires EVERYBODY grants that we must guard against the desire for evil things, since evil desires make evil men. But I say yet further, my daughter, do not desire dangerous things, such as balls or pleasures, office or honour, visions or ecstacies. Do not long after things afar off; such, I mean, as cannot happen till a distant time, as some do who by this means wear themselves out and expend their energies uselessly, fostering a dangerous spirit of distraction... We ought not to desire ways of serving God which He does not open to us, but rather desire to use what we have rightly. Of course I mean by this, real earnest desires, not common superficial wishes, which do no harm if not too frequently indulged. Do not desire crosses, unless you have borne those already laid upon you well--it is an abuse to long after martyrdom while unable to bear an insult patiently. The Enemy of souls often inspires men with ardent desires for unattainable things, in order to divert their attention from present duties, which would be profitable however trifling in themselves. We are apt to fight African monsters in imagination, while we let very petty foes vanquish us in reality for want of due heed.
Good advice in the electric age, in which it seems we ache over far away poverty and over 'systemic' problems we can hardly articulate, while we pass by opportunities to help those in our presence, even in small ways. This is a form of egotism.

Such nice people

Via Little Green Footballs.

New Stuff

I have been tinkering with the template tonight. I finally got around to taking Johnny Dee's advice about column widths; they're just a bit wider now. I also replaced the book list at the now defunct All Consuming with one from Amazon. Lastly, I also put an Amazon banner at the bottom of the page, alongside a quote generator. Comments are welcome, especially if you should have difficulty in viewing any part of the blog.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Problem of Pain

Here is a link to a good summary of C.S. Lewis' book, The Problem of Pain.

Three Worlds

Bill Vacellia's exchange with Kevin, on the mertis of dualism vs. materialism when talking about the mind, continues to be of interest. In fact, I think Bill is begining to get in stride because this is terrific:
Suppose we consider an analogy. Distinguished philosophers have proposed that there are three categories of entity. Following Karl Popper, who builds on the work of Gottlob Frege, we can call them World 1, World 2 and World 3 entities. World 1 includes physical items; World 2 mental items; World 3 'abstract' or 'ideal' items. 'Abstract' is not the best term since it suggests something unintended, namely, mental acts of abstraction; but the term is in use, and I'll use it. An abstract entity is one that is not located in space or time and is not causally active or passive. Take a humble arithmetical truth such as 7 + 5 = 12. The truth expressed (which is not to be confused with the sentences used to express it or the thoughts used to think it) can exist and be true whether any World 2 entities exist and whether any World 1 entities exist. I won't trot out all the arguments for this; I'll simply refer the reader to Frege, Popper, et al. Now suppose some benighted soul came along who got it into his head to build a "gradualist bridge" (to use a phrase of Dennett) from World 1 (the physical world) to World 3. He thinks that by a sufficiently deep and protracted investigation of the physical world we can come to explain abstracta as ultimately physical in nature. He thinks that if we only knew enough physics we would be able to understand that there is no independent realm of abstracta. One ought to be able to see that there is something utterly absurd about building a "gradualist bridge" from World 1 to World 3. Why, exactly? Well, physics presupposes mathematics; hence the truths of the latter cannot be reduced to truths of the former. For example, from pure mathematics we know that if d = vt, then v = d/t. That is a necessary truth, true in all possible worlds, including those in which there is no space, time, or moving particles. As such, it cannot be verified or refuted by any empirical test.
Kevin is in good company, however. An awful lot of modern philosophy (~ 1800 to the present) would lead one to the same conclusions. Too bad for modern philosophy.

Great Philosophers I have known

It seems the BBC is having a vote to determine who is the world's greatest philosopher. IMHO, this is a terrible way to answer the question, but I understand the point here is not truth but a bit fun to drive people to the BBC website. Tell me, please, who does Tom Cruise think is the best philosopher? I can't stand the suspense. The Maverick Philosopher and Edward Fesser weigh in. I have not read enough philosophy to choose with a great deal of confidence, but I find Fesser's idea of choosing Aquinas in order to not have to choose between Plato and Aristotle compelling. This means less originality, but I think that is a virtue that is over rated in our time. Honing in on the truth is the ultimate criteria for me, and for that reason I'll agree with Fesser. I scored only seven out of twelve on the quiz, though...

Love; the expansion of the self

"The expansion of the self happens very rapidly, it's one of the most exhilarating experiences there is..." - Dr. Arthur Aron The National Post reprinted a most interesting NYT story on a study that appeared in The Journal of Neurophysiology. The study used MRI scans to see how love affects the brain. Even more interesting was that the researchers thought they could see a difference in early infatuation and mature relationships. Here is an excerpt:
Brain imaging technology cannot read people's minds, experts caution, and a phenomenon as many-sided and socially influenced as love transcends simple computer graphics, like those produced by the technique used in the study, called functional MRI. Still, said Dr. Hans Breiter, director of the Motivation and Emotion Neuroscience Collaboration at Massachusetts General Hospital, "I distrust about 95 percent of the MRI literature, and I would give this study an A; it really moves the ball in terms of understanding infatuation love." He added: "The findings fit nicely with a large, growing body of literature describing a generalized reward and aversion system in the brain, and put this intellectual construct of love directly onto the same axis as homeostatic rewards such as food, warmth, craving for drugs." ... This passion-related region was on the opposite side of the brain from another area that registers physical attractiveness, the researchers found, and appeared to be involved in longing, desire and the unexplainable tug that people feel toward one person, among many attractive alternative partners. This distinction, between finding someone attractive and desiring him or her, between liking and wanting, "is all happening in an area of the mammalian brain that takes care of most basic functions, like eating, drinking, eye movements, all at an unconscious level, and I don't think anyone expected this part of the brain to be so specialized," Brown said. The intoxication of new love mellows with time, of course, and the brain scan findings reflect some evidence of this change, Fisher said. In an earlier functional MRI study of romance, published in 2000, researchers at University College London monitored brain activity in young men and women who had been in relationships for about two years. The brain images, also taken while participants looked at photos of their beloved, showed activation in many of the same areas found in the new study — but significantly less so, in the region correlated with passionate love, she said. In the new study, the researchers also saw individual differences in their group of smitten lovers, based on how long the participants had been in the relationships. Compared with the students who were in the first weeks of a new love, those who had been paired off for a year or more showed significantly more activity in an area of the brain linked to long-term commitment.
A naturalist could well look at this study and say, see, there is no such thing as love. It's just a brain doing what brains evolved to do. Myself, I see the beginnings of a vindication of some very old ideas. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1615:
This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy—heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ's cross, the source of all Christian life.
The ability of humans to rewire their outlook as need arises ought to be an area of much study. After all, it is not without limit. The failures of 20th century social engineering ought to be proof of that. While we are not infinitely malleable , it should also be pretty clear that individuals do have this ability in some dimensions, and this has important implications. Young people afraid of marriage and the commitment it brings might very well be right when they say: "I can't do that. I can't see myself as I am now succeeding at that kind of self giving." What often happens, however, is that we simply grow into it. You find yourself (unwittingly, most of the time) altering your perspective to make room for two, where before there was only one. The same holds true for having children, and this is why abortion is such a useless tragedy most of the time. A couple is shocked and surprised by the conception and can only look to the future as one of loss - of time, of money, liberty, and so on. What so often happens is that the little person comes along and you make room, bit by bit. It will be pointed out that while this can and does happen, it is also plain that it does not always happen. People abuse and abandon spouses and children. It's hardly a rare occurrence. I can think of two responses to this. The first is that this re-wiring phenomenon is not well understood. Perhaps there really are some people whose brains are poorly disposed to attachment. It would be very interesting to try and see if there is a genetic or environmental cause for that. The Church views a fully sacramental marriage as having the best chances of succeeding. That means both spouses are practising Catholics and the ceremony (and the preparations!) are presided over by a Catholic priest. At the very least it means the spouses are both baptised, practising Christians. It holds that the sacrament aids in spurring the bonding process on, even in the face of challenges. Mixed marriages have less power, but can succeed wonderfully, depending on the commitment of the spouses. Common Law, non sacramental marriages would be the most likely to be challenging, but we all know these can succeed. We're talking about generalized odds here. It would be interesting to know if there are studies to back this up. There is a chicken and egg problem here, in that a fully sacramental marriage requires the most preparation and one could reasonably say that kind of commitment ups the odds of the marriage succeeding quite a bit, even apart from any particular sacrament. A drive though Las Vegas wedding, on the other hand, takes little effort or forethought, and as such it should not surprise when it buckles at the first sign of serious trouble. This seems to me to be the same thing the Church is saying. God is not bound to the sacrament; he may be anywhere he is sought out - even a Las Vegas drive through chapel. The odds are less that he will be sought out there, however. By doing the prep, we open ourselves up to the work of building up a mature love, one with a sound foundation. We impress on ourselves that ongoing work is required. A look at what happens to people in relationships that fail is in the works by the same authors as the study above. I suspect that ripping up all the new wiring we have been talking about is extremely painful, even traumatic, and I hope there will be proof that our quick divorce culture is not in our best interest. We may, in fact, be getting a glimpse into why some people are self centered all their days. They may fail to undertake the rewiring necessary after growing up in the broken home, or they may shut themselves down after a spouse pulls the wool out from under them. I also suspect that our media culture hinders us all the time, by continually blurring the sensation of sexual attraction and infatuation with that of life long sacrificial love. This study suggests that these involve very different parts of the brain. As for sleeping around and the "pronofication" of almost all levels of the culture, well, that can't be doing us any good, can it? In a way, it's funny that we need studies like this. Media and advertising's abundant use of risque images and innuendos ought to tell us something about how such images impact us, ie. powerfully, and unconsciously. If the images had no power, we wouldn't see them used in that way nearly as much, would we?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Strangers and sojourners

There is an interesting article from Paul Johnson on Commentary, where he explores the irrational deep rootedness of anti semitism. Johnson writes:
The historical evidence suggests that racism, in varying degrees, is ubiquitous in human societies, so much so that it might even be termed natural and inevitable (though not irremediable: its behavioral consequences can be mitigated by education, political arrangements, and intermarriage). It often takes the form of national hostility, especially when two countries are placed by geography in postures of antagonism. Such has been the case with France and England, Poland and Russia, and Germany and Denmark, to give only three obvious examples... By contrast, anti-Semitism is very ancient, has never been associated with frontiers, and, although it has had its ups and downs, seems impervious to change. The Jews (or Hebrews) were “strangers and sojourners,” as the book of Genesis puts it, from very early times, and certainly by the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. Long before the great diaspora that followed the conflicts of Judea with Rome, they had settled in many parts of the Mediterranean area and Middle East while maintaining their separate religion and social identity; the first recorded instances of anti-Semitism date from the 3rd century B.C., in Alexandria. Subsequent historical shifts have not ended anti-Semitism but merely superimposed additional archaeological layers, as it were. To the anti-Semitism of antiquity was added the Christian layer and then, from the time of the Enlightenment on, the secularist layer, which culminated in Soviet anti-Semitism and the Nazi atrocities of the first half of the 20th century. Now we have the Arab-Muslim layer, dating roughly from the 1920’s but becoming more intense with each decade since.
Johnson shares some background on the modern middle east that will be useful in countering the suggestion one hears too often, that "it's always been that way over there." See his comments about the Mufti, Al-Husseini. He also makes an interesting comparison between medieval Spain hosting the Inquisition and squandering the wealth that poured into it from the new world, and the Arab world's squandering of it's oil wealth. To the second point, I have to add that while it's interesting, one can see the exact same formula for disaster acted out on a casino winner who has a terrible credit rating and who has never held much wealth. Unearned wealth is very often a curse. I'm tempted to think jealousy may have more impact on this particular streak of racism than it does in others. Repeated failure to out compete simply drives the hater ever deeper into irrational hatred. It's a cycle yes, but not one that can be laid at the feet of the victim. The hater needs to make peace with Providence and move on.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Sour Links!

Call me a traditionalist, orthodox fuddy duddy if you want, but I'm certain there's a better way to interest people (especially kids) in the Bible than pictures of lego men. Thoughts on sex that are actually worth thinking. Dennis Mangan's blog seems to get better all the time. If you haven't yet, you ought. Despite being an interesting and thoughtful writer, I'm afraid this guy has no sense of humour. Finally, Fred suggests we do away with universal suffrage.

The new TTLB

I'm quite impressed with the new and improved Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem, and how it allows you to see how blogs stand in relation to their niche, as opposed to simply blogs in general. The Canadian pond is still quite small compared to the US or the UK, but as I understand it, it's bigger than France or Germany, where blogging has yet to take off. In the Canadian pool, NWW is currently ranked #25 in Canada. Not bad for a "so con" book blog, eh? The top dogs don't surprise me too much - Small Dead Animals, Angry in the Great White North, and Bound by Gravity et al, are all pretty tough competition. Still, #330 on the overall list is not bad, nor is closing in on 500 unique links. Also interesting is that nine of the top ten are conservative blogs of various stripes (and the tenth is an aggregate). In fact, it looks as if the cons utterly dominate the listings. That can't last can it? This is Librano land after all... Wait until the CRTC weighs in!

The last Conservative value

I don't think it's true that, as this Scottish blogger likes to say, that "cruelty is the last remaining conservative value." That's torqued up a tad bit too high, IMHO. Note that I don't think it's entirely without merit. One can attempt to make an ideology of some elements of conservative thinking by fetishizing them: free markets, law and order, nationalism. To avoid this trap - one that is not unique to conservatives - one has to remember that we value those things because we think they can help people. Our loyalty has to be to people, and not to abstractions:
Conservatism is the property of all, not the simple possession of whoever sits in the Oval Office. Such is the detachment of the free market establishment from the working man and woman, and so ideological are they, that they forget that the working class are some of the most socially conservative people you will find. If you want an advocate for the wearing of school uniform and corporal punishment, you’ll find them working on a production line. Ditto for immigration control, restriction of abortion rights, support for the death penalty, whatever. Archie Bunker and his English father Alf Garnett were crude liberal caricatures of the backbone of productive society. However, the free marketeers do not see these people as fellow citizens whose contribution to economic activity is as vital as their own. Instead, they are viewed merely as ‘labour costs’, untermensch almost, to be expunged from the balance sheet in favour of the option that brings the highest return at the earliest opportunity.
I think his criticism is best directed at some of the libertarian boyz in the big C tent, rather than at the big tent itself. G-Gnome's idea of conservatism is that should be:
a philosophy, not an ideology, that compliments Judaeo-Christian values and does not seek to supplant them; which holds that the life of the individual is sacred wherever it is found, whether it be in the womb , in the hospice or in the illegal immigrant; that holds it is possible to debate the negative aspects of immigration without resorting to race hatred masked as 'eugenics' or 'human biodiversity'; that holds that the possession of private capital is essential to the health of a society, and that the more people possess capital the better as opposed to its being hoarded by governments, ultra-wealthy individuals or legal entities like corporations; that holds that tradition and history should be taught correctly and not abused; that holds that the word 'trade' implies a two-way traffic, which must be of some benefit to both parties; that holds that the citizens of nations are entitled to make their own laws, which are always the best laws by which they could be governed; that holds that governments are only delegates of the people and not their rulers; and which holds that it is possible to recognize the dangers posed by beliefs already coursing the culture without the need to make war against shadow enemies.
Thanks also to the Gnome for the link to this interesting blog.
Postscript This WSJ op ed examines the Liberal counterpoint to the above: Liberal fundamentalsts:
... politics during the presidencies of Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower was waged mainly as politics and not as a kind of religious political crusade. Somehow that changed during the Kennedy presidency. Mr. Kennedy used the force of his personality to infuse his supporters with a sense of transcendent mission--the New Frontier. The emotions this movement inspired coincided with the one deeply moral political phenomenon that postwar America has experienced--Martin Luther King's civil-rights movement. The Rev. King's multiracial civil-rights marches and their role in overturning de jure and de facto segregation in the U.S. were a political and moral achievement. In retrospect, it's clear that the moral clarity of the early civil-rights movement was a political epiphany for many white liberals. Some have since returned to traditional, private lives; others have become neoconservatives. But many active liberals carried along their newly found moral certitude and quasi-religious fervor into nearly every major public-policy issue that has come along in the past 15 years. The result has been liberal fundamentalism.

Friday, June 17, 2005


Special Shipping Information: This item is not eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping. Colby Cosh is making me really nostalgic with this post. Why do Catholics blog? A Canadian academic is releasing a new collection of poetry by Thomas Merton. A good editorial by Margaret Sommerville here:
each party is using social-ethical values issues to try to ensure that the other party does not earn the trust of undecided voters—whose numbers have probably substantially increased. In the current political circumstances, where we have been so forcefully reminded that we cannot simply assume that we can trust people in public office, trust will play a much more important and decisive role in the outcome of an election, were one to be called, than in the past. But alleging breaches of trust is not an ethically neutral act, not least because such allegations can seriously harm the broad trust basis on which society rests. So, if they are to act ethically, politicians must not make such accusations cynically, not caring whether or not they are true and just for political gain. In other words, motives matter ethically: to point out serious breaches of trust of which the public has a right to know is not the same, ethically, as alleging breaches of trust simply as a political tactic and a cynical way of trying to earn votes. Second, there are serious dangers for society in general outside the political sphere, in destroying trust within that sphere. That means people who make allegations that risk causing damage to societal trust must be able to justify creating that risk.
The Sommerville editorial is relevant to his Peggy Noonan peice as well.

The sickly continent

The 'sick man' of europe is europe One of my favourite historians weighs in on the state of affairs in Europe. Paul Johnson writes of Europe:
Europe has turned its back not only on the U.S. and the future of capitalism, but also on its own historic past. Europe was essentially a creation of the marriage between Greco-Roman culture and Christianity. Brussels has, in effect, repudiated both. There was no mention of Europe's Christian origins in the ill-fated Constitution, and Europe's Strasbourg Parliament has insisted that a practicing Catholic cannot hold office as the EU Justice Commissioner. Equally, what strikes the observer about the actual workings of Brussels is the stifling, insufferable materialism of their outlook. The last Continental statesman who grasped the historical and cultural context of European unity was Charles de Gaulle. He wanted "the Europe of the Fatherlands (L'Europe des patries)" and at one of his press conferences I recall him referring to "L'Europe de Dante, de Goethe et de Chateaubriand." I interrupted: "Et de Shakespeare, mon General?" He agreed: "Oui! Shakespeare aussi!" No leading member of the EU elite would use such language today. The EU has no intellectual content. Great writers have no role to play in it, even indirectly, nor have great thinkers or scientists. It is not the Europe of Aquinas, Luther or Calvin--or the Europe of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Half a century ago, Robert Schumann, first of the founding fathers, often referred in his speeches to Kant and St. Thomas More, Dante and the poet Paul Valery. To him--he said explicitly--building Europe was a "great moral issue." He spoke of "the Soul of Europe." Such thoughts and expressions strike no chord in Brussels today. In short, the EU is not a living body, with a mind and spirit and animating soul. And unless it finds such nonmaterial but essential dimensions, it will soon be a dead body, the symbolic corpse of a dying continent.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Bill Vacellia and Kevin Kim continue to discuss the merits of naturalism and dualism. What's interesting in these debates is that as an undergrad, I would have argued alongside Kim. I didn't grok the kind of argument Vacellia is making; it was just too new and too strange to me. So was Berkeley's idealism. Now, I would say they are... interesting. As I'm older and (I hope) wiser now, I think my ability to weigh into these things is getting better instead of worse. Looking back, I think I was arguing with a figment of the dualist argument, not the real thing, and I think Kevin is in the same danger. Kevin attempts to use Occam's Razor to validate his naturalism, arguing that dualists bring unnecessary items to the debate. Bill suggests that Kevin's definition of reality is a bit thin. He writes:
I have no problem with methodological naturalism. If the task is to explain physical phenomena, then by all means go as far as possible invoking only physical causes. But mental phenomena, whether intentional (e.g. desiring a beer) or non-intentional (e.g. suffering a headache) have properties that make it impossible to identify them with physical state or events. How do you get meaning out of meat? By squeezing hard? The intentional states mean something, they refer to an object, which may or may not exist. This semantic property of aboutness is not a physical property. So at the very minimum it looks as if we are forced to posit irreducible mental properties. Thus arises property dualism, which of course is not to be confused with substance dualism. What I would say to Kevin is that his appeal to Occam's Razor is out of place. The Razor says: Don't multiply entities beyond necessity. But as I have suggested, it is a necessity to posit irreducible mental properties if we are to account for mental phenomena. The fact that they do not fit into the naturalistic scheme is just too bad. And is it not unscientific to demand a priori that everything fit a preconceived conceptual mold?
Under Kevin's scheme, the intentional "I" is an illusion, as would be things that are the objects of intention - items like Truth and Justice. It's been a while since I read The Republic, but I recall Plato discussing ideal forms as real objects. We know what a perfect circle is, although we've never seen one. We can describe one mathematically but we can't create one; it will always be off by minute amounts. Does that mean the perfect circle does not exist? Surely my intention is not the same thing as that which it produces? Does it seem reasonable to suggest that meat can be wired to apprehend and intend perfection? If the perfect circle is an unseen real object, there might be other things that are unseen but real, and these things might well be considerably more complex than a circle. Like, for instance, justice, or the "I" itself. If they are indeed real objects and we have never seen them, that raises the juicy question of how we should come to be familiar with them. Philosopher Peter Kreeft writes about things that we sense without our conventional senses in this exploration of the Argument from Desire.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Against Wind and Tide

This passage is from Patrick O'Brian's book, Post Captain, which is book two in the Aubrey - Martin series. You may know it from the movie The Far Side of the World, which is book ten in the series. To set it up, in this scene Captain Aubrey needs more men for a new ship he is shortly to take out against Napoleon's forces. Unable to come up with a satisfactory poster himself, Aubrey remembers that one of his men is skilled in such arts. This is what the crewman produced:
HMS Polycrest will shortly sail to scour the seas of ALL KING GEORGE'S enemies. She is designed to SAIL AGAINST THE WIND AND TIDE and she will Take, Sink, and Destroy the Tyrant's helpless man-of-war, without Mercy, sweeping the the Ocean of his Trade. There is no time to be lost! Once the Polycrest has gone by there will be no more PRIZES, no more fat French and cowardly Dutch merchatmen, loaded with Treasure, Jewels, Satins, and Costly Delicacies for the immoral and luxurious Usurper's Court. This Amazing New Vessel, built on Scientific Principles, is commanded by the renowned ------- whose Brig Sophie, with a 28lb broadside, captured L100,000's worth of enemy shipping last war. 28lb, and the Polycrest fires 384lb from either side! More than TWELVE TIMES as much! The Enemy must soon be Bankrupt - the End is Nigh. Come and join the Fun before it is too late, and set up your Carriage! Captain Aubrey has been prevailed upon to accept a few more hands. Only exceptionally wide awake, intelligent men will be entertained, capable of lifting a Winchester bushel of Gold; but perhaps YOU ARE THE LUCKY MAN! Hurry, there is no time to be lost. Hurry to the Rendezvous at the -- YOU MAY BE THE LUCKY MAN WHO IS ACCEPTED! No troublesome formalities. The best of provisions at 16oz. to the pound, 4 lb. of tobacco a month. Free beer, wine and grog! Dancing and fiddling aboard. Be healthy and wealthy and wise, and bless the day you came aboard the Polycrest!
God save the King!
On reading it over, Captain Aubrey approves it, gives the writer money to take to the printer's for handbills and posters, and then, just before returning to his preparations, reminds the men, "pray, do not reject anything that can haul a rope." Perhaps Red Ensign recruiting should take note?

The quality and fashion of clothes

More from Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life. The book is sensible and civilized in a way no one seems to be able to imagine any more. Can you imagine a modern women's magazine publishing such a thing? GQ? We have very little sense of the stations of life anymore. Self and sentiment have sent it underground, and marketing has slammed the door. We're all poor now, with "aged" jeans at premium prices and plumber butts for all. Still, there is an element of artiface to the book that makes it a bit jarring to my admitledly modern ears.
As to the quality and fashion of clothes, modesty in these points must depend upon various circumstances, age, season, condition, the society we move in, and the special occasion. Most people dress better on a high festival than at other times; in Lent, or other penitential seasons, they lay aside all gay apparel; at a wedding they wear wedding garments, at a funeral, mourning garb; and at a king's court the dress which would be unsuitable at home is suitable. A wife may and should adorn herself according to her husband's wishes when he is present;--if she does as much in his absence one is disposed to ask in whose eyes she seeks to shine? We may grant somewhat greater latitude to maidens, who may lawfully desire to attract many, although only with the view of ultimately winning one in holy matrimony. Neither do I blame such widows as purpose to marry again for adorning themselves, provided they keep within such limits as are seemly for those who are at the head of a family, and who have gone through the sobering sorrows of widowhood. But for those who are widows indeed, in heart as well as outwardly, humility, modesty and devotion are the only suitable ornaments. If they seek to attract men's admiration they are not widows indeed, and if they have no such intention, why should they wear its tokens? Those who do not mean to entertain guests should take down their signboard. So, again, every one laughs at old women who affect youthful graces,-- such things are only tolerable in the young. Always be neat, do not ever permit any disorder or untidiness about you. There is a certain disrespect to those with whom you mix in slovenly dress; but at the same time avoid all vanity, peculiarity, and fancifulness. As far as may be, keep to what is simple and unpretending--such dress is the best adornment of beauty and the best excuse for ugliness. S. Peter bids women not to be over particular in dressing their hair. Every one despises a man as effeminate who lowers himself by such things, and we count a vain woman as wanting in modesty, or at all events what she has becomes smothered among her trinkets and furbelows. They say that they mean no harm, but I should reply that the devil will contrive to get some harm out of it all. For my own part I should like my devout man or woman to be the best dressed person in the company, but the least fine or splendid, and adorned, as S. Peter says, with "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." S. Louis said that the right thing is for every one to dress according to his position, so that good and sensible people should not be able to say they are over-dressed, or younger gayer ones that they are under-dressed. But if these last are not satisfied with what is modest and seemly, they must be content with the approbation of the elders.

Mind and Brain

Reuters is a pretty crappy and biased news source, all things considered. They don't know what a terrorist is, for example. Even so, there is no need to dispute this:
The [Schaivo autopsy] results supported clinical findings and the contention of her husband that Schiavo had been in a "persistent vegetative state" since collapsing 15 years earlier from a cardiac arrest that deprived her brain of oxygen, said Dr. Stephen Nelson, a forensic pathologist who assisted in the autopsy. "She would not have been able to form any cognitive thought," said Nelson, speaking with Pinellas County Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin at a news conference. "There was a massive loss of brain tissue." During a long and bitter family feud over Schiavo's fate, courts consistently ruled in support of Schiavo's husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, that Schiavo would not have wanted to live in such a state. A persistent vegetative state meant she was unable to think, feel or interact with her environment.
Why? Because it in no way alters this:
“No details of this autopsy change the moral evaluation of what happened to Terri,” said [Fr.] Pavone. “Her physical injuries and disabilities never made her less of a person. No amount of brain injury ever justifies denying a person proper humane care. That includes food and water.”
Well now, we all know that Father Pavone is a right to life nutter, right? He's got no brainpower behind his point of view, right? He's just robotic divine command fruitcake, right? Here's a philosophy Ph.D. to explain some mind / body problems, and show that there's nothing unthinking about Pavone's position:
Are mind and brain identical? To answer the question one must know what one means by 'identity.' I mean strict numerical sameness... Don't confuse qualitative with numerical identity, and don't confuse identity with correlation. That's the beginning of wisdom, but only the beginning. I now introduce a principle known in the trade as the Indiscernibility of Identicals. Stated roughly, it says that if X and Y are numerically identical, then they share all properties. This is not only true, but necessarily true in the sense that it is impossible that X and Y differ property-wise if they are numerically identical. Given the truth of the Indiscernibility of Identicals, if my mind is identical to my brain, then my mind and my brain share all properties: everything true of the one is true of the other, and vice versa. But it is clear that they do not share all properties. The brain is a physical thing with a definite mass, weight, location, size, shape. One can inject dyes into various of its subregions. One can insert electrodes into it. One can remove and discard parts of it. I can literally give you a piece of my brain. But can I literally give you a piece of my mind? Does my mind have a weight in grams? Is it divisible? It is true that my mind is now wholly occupied with the mind-body problem. But it is either false or makes no sense to say that my brain is wholly occupied with the mind-body problem. It follows from these facts alone that my mind and my brain cannot be identical.
The fact that Terri Schaivo was injured, with almost no chance of recovery has little bearing on her identity as a human person. When she was healthy, no one knew what the contents of her mind were and the accident did nothing to change that. Nothing. The adamant view of the Reuters article - you can almost see them spiking it in the Schindlers face- does not even attempt to address the issues raised by the pro life side. This is, in fairness, more than likely a product of journalistic ignorance than malice. Before I go, I want to direct you to Eternity Road once again, where Francis has "exposed" another gaff in the thinking of our journalistic-hollywood bettors. This one reminded me of that Bloodhound Gang CD from a few years back. If you're Barbara Walters, however, you need to add the qualifier that the Hooray! is only for the exploitative use of said Boobies. Public view of function is verboten. If we allow that, next thing you know, the riff raff will start to think in terms of teleology.

Before Darwin

Look out. Sirius' Brandon is on the march in this fine post:
The significance of Darwin was not that he gave a way to attribute moral qualities to animals. It was (need it actually be said?) that he gave a powerful argument for a gradualist account of the origin of species. Darwin's amateur reflections on morality can easily be shown to be derivative; from Hume, for instance, who makes a stronger case than Darwin does for attributing moral qualities to animals. It may be hard to imagine, but Darwin was not an all-shattering trumpet-blast opening the first round of Ragnarok. Almost always, when people open a sentence with "Before Darwin" you know that they are trying to pull a fast one; the only such sentence that is clearly true is, "Before Darwin we didn't have anyone pompously telling us how things were before Darwin." And, contrary to Madigan's claims, only someone very uninformed would hold that most religions assume that human beings begin with regard for every member of our species.
Ouch. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The First Born Daughter

The Danger of Exculturation In this report on France, Gianni Ambrosio examines Catholicisme, la fin d'un monde [Catholicism, the end of a world], a book by Daniele Hervieu-Lager, who is described as a "a renowned sociologist of religion." Ambrosio is the general ecclesiastic assistant at the Catholic University of Milan. Hervieu-Lager describes the Church in France as being in a terminal decline, a decline she terms "Exculturation."
With each phase of its journey modernity distances itself from Catholicism and uproots it from the French cultural context. "Secular" France becomes "pagan" France. The France that was once her "firstborn daughter" no longer has room in its culture for Mother Church... As the author [Danile Hervieu-Lager] recalls, the term "pagan" is a recurring one in French pastoral literature. It is enough to cite to the well-known work "La France pays de mission?" by H. Godin and Y. Daniel, published in 1943. In it, they denounce the danger of dechristianization, understood as a return to paganism: the "new pagans" of the cities and the factories live in the social vacuum and the moral corruption of a society characterized by a purely materialistic vision of the world. Fifty years later, in a work that attracted a good deal of attention, "Vers une France paenne?", Hippolyte Simon, bishop of Clermont, revisited the question of paganism, updating it to meet the new reality. He writes, in fact, of a "new paganism," which consists of the passive acceptance of the world that just as it is: the new paganism is the slavery of fatalism. For Simon, this paganism could lead to the destruction of the French model of society, and of its secularity in particular. If the idea of justice found in French society is connected to the Christian ethos, and this ethos is diminished, then there is the risk that the very idea of justice would be lost. This tendency, Simon continues, certainly involves the Church and its mission. But above all it involves French society, which must defend its secularity. Because secularity is the arena for the realization, in a secularized form, of the values which have come from and been sustained by Christianity: the equality of persons, individual responsibility for the development of the rules for life in common, the distinction between the things of God and the things of Caesar. Thus, Simon concludes, "the real debate, the only one that matters, does not take place between believers and 'misbelievers,' as they call themselves. It takes place between those who recognize the dignity of the human person as the preeminent value that gives meaning to every personal and collective action, and those who are willing to make the person an instrument at the service of idolatry, of whatever nature it might be." So, according to Simon, the mission of the Church today does not at all involve the rejection of this modernity and the French idea of secularity. On the contrary, the Church today intends to safeguard these advances against the invasion of new forms of pagan belief that encourage individuals to fatalism. It is society itself that must collectively "shake itself out of it" if it wants to save itself instead of plunging into the pagan meaninglessness of modernity.
Where might Exculturation lead us? After all, some might find it hard to imagine how the idea of justice could be lost. Imagine that there is still something called justice, but that is bares little resemblance to what we now think of on hearing the term. Think of a court that rules largely based on the status of your victim group - what used to be called a "Clan." Couldn't happen? It is is fact not that unusual in many places in the third world. What is unusual is to see it making a re-appearance in the West. Like, say, in Italy. Limousine Libs around the world embrace a double standard when it comes to western culture. They seem to think it will withstand any number of kicks they choose to give it, while those branded 'victim' can't even be critically engaged. Whatever happened to the 'open society'? And justice for all? Why the alarm over Fallaci, and the yawn over everyday occurrences like these?

Monday, June 13, 2005

A living faith

Eternity Road's Francis Poretto has posted about his movement from cradle Catholic to... well, not Catholic, and back to Catholic again. There is stuff that goes with that sort of movement, stuff that sometimes doesn't get shared but should be. Not sharing it makes us look like unthinking and unfeeling robots. I don't have the exactly the same problems Poretto does, but I have a great deal of sympathy with the sort of delimma he presents us. That, I think we all feel. Go on, now. This is good even by his normally high standards.

Be Reasonable

This post reminds me of that debate I had with Andrew way back when we were both still wet behind the ears (blog-wise, anyhow). The difference is that The Maverick Philosopher is able to make his points in far less space than your truly.
Let me say first, Kevin, that I am not trying to convince you or anyone that theism is true -- which would be too ambitious a project --but only that it is reasonable, at least as reasonable as its naturalistic competitors. The true and reasonable are distinct. Antithetical views could both be reasonable, but not both true. At the end of the day, after all the dialectical smoke has cleared and all the arguments pro et contra have been weighed up, one has to simply decide what one will believe and how one will live. Taking your second question first, you are right that to prove the existence of a First Cause of a certain description (necessary, ontologically simple, absolute, wholly immaterial, etc.) is not the same as to prove the existence of the God of the Bible. In any case, it is not exactly clear what the God of the Bible is. Is he trinitarian in structure? Or unitarian? Is he ontologically simple as Aquinas thought? Alvin Plantinga would disagree. So even establishing the identity of the God of the Bible is no easy task. There is also a problem about establishing which would-be Biblical writings are indeed canonical. When a Protestant says, 'Sola scriptura,' I want to say: Which scripture? Your list or mine? And note, you Protestants out there, that to establish the canonical list will take more than a mere appeal to scripture. Otherwise you threaten to move in a circle of embarrassingly short diameter. You have to use your noodle, your unaided reason. And so you need to invoke that Greek thing called philosophy. So it is not a good idea to be contemptuous of it, in the manner of the good Luther, who pronounced reason a whore. (If he were alive to day he would have said that reason is a lawyer. But I digress.) So one mistake to avoid is the simple identification of the God of the philosophers with the God of Isaac, Abraham and Jacob. But an equal and opposite mistake is the one made by Pascal, that of divorcing the two as if they have nothing to do with one another. Faith and reason are two means of access to the same reality.
Bill has more links on the subject, for those interested. For myself, I'm with Aquinas and I see the two images of God as more than likely the same. I recognize, however, that I do not know this by way of reason.