Monday, January 31, 2005

Natural Ethics

I have been told that I'm hard on Naturalists and their ethics. Perhaps that's because I was one once, and perhaps it's because I'm trying to be rigorous in my approach (not that I am claiming success). At any rate, I'm heartened to find another soul taking what looks like very much the same approach. The following is from an entry on W.V. Quine (although the part I've excerpted has nothing too much to do with him) by Edward C. Feser. It was posted to The Conservative Philosopher:
I also think that it is no accident that naturalistic philosophers tend toward unconservative positions in ethics and politics. Naturalists have a tendency to suppose that the methods of the natural sciences are the right models to apply to the study of the human world. Since the history of natural science has often been a history of proving common sense wrong where matters far removed from everyday human life are concerned, the expectation understandably forms that common sense is likely to be wrong where the human world is concerned as well. This is an attitude Michael Levin has called the “skim milk” fallacy – the fallacy of assuming that “things are never what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream” – and there are good Burkean and Hayekian reasons for thinking that it is indeed a fallacy. It is, Burkeans and Hayekians would argue, unlikely that deep errors about human nature would persist within common sense, given how crucial a right understanding of the human world is to the success of everyday human intercourse, and even to survival... Most naturalistic philosophers end up at least subtly re-conceiving the world of everyday human life along naturalistic metaphysical lines, and this influences they way they think about ethics, whether they realize it or not. Naturalism tells them we’re just clever animals, or “machines made of meat,” or whatever, and at some level the ethical theory reflects that. The average human being doesn't’ think this way, of course, and indeed the average naturalistic philosopher doesn’t think this way either in day-to-day life. It is simply too inhuman a way to think about human beings to be possible to sustain for very long.

Speechless

This link from Chrenkoff leaves me speechless.

Strong and "Free"

Blogger Russ Kuykendall at Burkean Canuck has an interesting post up about Church and State, and it's very relevant given that parliament will examine SSM beginning this week, and that rockin' dude Peierre Pettigrew (the little sychophant) told Catholics to bug off since they have no right to even speak to the issue. One commenter on the post chillingly hints at where we are going: "we appear to be going back to a Roman concept of the state, where it becomes the arbiter for all things, and to cross its "Canadian values" is an act of immorality." I have no doubt that there are people in the Federal Liberal party who are that daft (and some who are not). I still have faith in my fellow Canadians, however. We still value dissent, don't we? I also want to point out how clever Paul Martin has been. He had told his party that they will be allowed a free vote on the issue - unless they are in cabinet, in which case they must support it. Basically, he's telling the rest of the party that if they ever want to have a hope of being in cabinet in the future, they'll know how to vote. I'm not falling for it. "Free vote" my posterior.

Vital Spirits

Johnny Dee quotes from one of his texbooks in a philosophy of mind course, written by one John Searle:
it is very hard even in the present era to come right out and say, "No human being has ever been conscious." Rather, the sophisticated philosopher gives the view that people are sometimes conscious a name, for example, "Cartesian Intuition," [and] then he or she sets about challenging, questioning, denying something described as "the Cartesian Intuition." Rhetorically speaking, the idea is to make you, the skeptical reader, feel that if you don't believe the view being advanced, you are playing Cardinal Bellarmine to the author's Galileo. Other favorites are phlogiston and vital spirits, and again the idea is to bully the reader into supposing that if he or she doubts, for example, that computers are actually thinking, it can only be because the reader believes in something as unscientific as phlogiston or vital spirits. ... The ultimate absurdity is to try to treat consciousness itself independently of consciousness, that is, to treat it solely from a third-person point of view, and that leads to the view that consciousness as such, as "inner," "private" phenomenal events, does not really exist.
It's an interesting quote on an interesting subject and worth checking out. My comments are only on the rhetoric, which is certainly not confined to philosophy. We see it in politics all the time. It's a sort of straw man, or a false dilemma is it not? Sure is nice to see it confronted head on.

The Moral Matrix

Somebody's finally come up with another way of graphing political / moral tendencies. The Moral Matrix is like other political quizzes that place you on a four quadrant graph according to your views on social and economic issues. This one uses 1) how important you think morality is and 2) how much of your sense of morality is rules based to create the four quadrants. My results did not surprise me, except when it came to John Kerry being a closer match than George Bush. How should I put this? um.... no.... The following items best match your score:

Moderate Conservatism is the variation of Conservatism that balances Conformance and Independence.

People in this category will tend to have balanced opinions about enforcing the moral order (religious conformance, strict family values, lesser freedom of expression, stricter laws...) and about favoring individual initiatives (lower taxes, less corporate and environmental regulations, ...).

  1. System: Conservatism
  2. Variation: Moderate Conservatism
  3. Ideologies: Capital Republicanism
  4. US Parties: Republican Party, Democratic Party
  5. Presidents: Gerald Ford (93.01%)
  6. 2004 Election Candidates: John Kerry (84.38%), George W. Bush (74.81%), Ralph Nader (69.22%)
Avoiding religious terminology, I would describe myself as someone who is mildly libertarian, and who rejects utilitarian ethics. I think right and wrong are real things, not opinions, although I acknowledge they are difficult to discern and the process is a life's work. I also think people have to find these things out for themselves - legitimate legislation and the legitimate use of force are about self and social preservation, not teaching. Tip: Striving Against Opposition, who got it from Ghost of a Flea

Sunday, January 30, 2005

They are not Monsters

Engaging the Culture of Death
“They are not moral monsters. They are not Nazis or hatemongers. They are our colleagues and very often our friends. Many of them are doing their level best to think through the moral issues at the heart of our cultural struggle and arrive at conclusions that are right and just. They view themselves as partisans of a culture of freedom. In most cases, they carefully and honestly argue for those choices for death (as Dworkin himself calls them) whose moral worthiness they proclaim and whose legal permission and constitutional protection they defend. As a matter of reciprocity, it is, in my view, incumbent upon us, as their opponents, to engage them in debate, to answer their arguments, and to say why they are wrong. While we must oppose them with resolution and, indeed, determination to win, we cannot content ourselves merely to denounce them, as we would rightly denounce the moral monsters who created a different culture of death on the European continent in the 1930s and ’40s.” Robert P. George, The Clash of Orthodoxies
I have this book, and have read and enjoyed it. It is very worthwhile to remember not to demonize those who are not pro life. It's hard enough trying to get through to them as it is. Another layer of division will not help. Tip: Vincent at What a Mystery!

Death Cults

Francis Poretto at Eternity Road (one of my favourite blogs) has a provocative series of essays up that he calls The Convergence of the Death Cults. His inspiration was from one of his readers, Pascal, who wrote:
I believe that we can tie much of what appears to be illogical to this desire to limit human population by a few, and by the many who are misled into believing that either God or nature -- including human nature's drive to overcome any adversity -- will be insufficient. You know: those who are convinced that Malthus has just got to be eventually correct.
Poretto's essays are here: Good stuff. I mean, if you're not doing anything else... do you ever wonder why the left finds death so sexy? Abortion, birth control, suicide bombing, euthenasia, criticsizing efforts at self defense, choking production through environmental regulation, etc? When we fall for these things someone else takes a step up on the will to power.

Nonsense!

The Truth During her talk yesterday, Dr. Smith said a couple of things that get right to the heart of why leftist (atheist, materialist) thinking is just silly. I'll repeat them here because in my dream world everyone would know them and no leftist could get away with it.
Leftist: "There is no such thing as truth." Answer: "Is that true?" Leftist: "Well, there is one truth, and that is that there is no truth." Answer: "If that is true, then there are at least two truths: 1) there is no truth and, 2) that #1 alone is true. But #2 also contradicts itself and #1, since it is a second truth."
More left silliness... "You can't legislate morality." Well, every law on the books is a form of coercion and a normative claim but you won't hear them cry about laws sending smokers into the rain or forcing people to wear bike helmets. Why not? They'll say that those are not morals being enforced. They aren't? How is it that the principle of harm reduction is not a moral principle? Max Gross writes at The Conservative Philosopher:
It is hard to imagine a reason for enacting the harm principle into law that does not stem from a recognition of some normative notion such as the importance of preserving natural rights or of maximizing individual autonomy. Someone who didn't care about morality would find the principle irrelevant to his decision-making.
The question to ask is, does the law in question address something real? Does it do so in a way that is not self contradictory? (such as costing more than it benefits) Is it within our human scope to deal with or enforce? Is it beneficial for everyone? People speaking against "the legislation of morality" make the mistake of thinking that what they like and want from the law is somehow exempt being a moral claim. It's contradictory, like saying there is no such thing as truth.
Perhaps “You can’t legislate morality” means “Law cannot supply the motivation that is distinctive of morality.” Law is coercive; it says either “Do this or else” or “Don’t do this or else.” If I obey the law solely out of fear of punishment, I act out of self-interest, which is arguably a nonmoral motive.
I would agree with Burgess Jackson here. The law can't affect our motivation. We really are free in a radical way that the law has no effect on. Even Grace has to be accepted freely. Legislation should not be seen as instructive or corrective. Its normative function gives us society, a framework in which we act, and it is this frame from which practical freedoms arise and are protected, just as grammar allows us to speak and be understood. Answering "why?" with "more!" William Voegeli writes at the Claremont Institute:

Bill Clinton was fond of saying that character is "a journey, not a destination." But to leave home without a destination, convinced that the very idea of a destination is arbitrary and false, is to embark on a "journey" that will be no different from just wandering around. How, then, shall we live? The entirety of liberalism's answer is, according to Rawls... humans can rescue their lives from meaninglessness by striving, however they pass their days, to employ more rather than fewer of their talents, finding new ones and expanding known ones, to the sole purpose of being able to enlarge them still further, endlessly.

Looks to me like failing to answer the question or failing to understand Hume's fork - there is no "ought" to be derived from nothing but an "is." Utilitarian ethics can devise a perfect price point but it cannot say anything about the refusal to use it and choose some other point due to personal preference. The charge that an action is irrational has no meaning in such a system. It's simply an empty concept.

False Consciousness Voegeli continues:

As an ethical precept this position is risible. As the basis for social criticism, it is infuriating. This is the standard by which liberals judge us to be spiritually unemployed, the basis on which they are going to lift the level of our existence? Many Democrats lament that Republicans have been successful in getting working-class Americans to vote "against their own interests," by stressing social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Thomas Frank wrapped an entire bestseller, What's the Matter with Kansas?, around this idea. It's a "false consciousness" diagnosis that betrays rather than describes the Democrats' problem: the smug assumption that we know, far better than they do themselves, the "real interests" of people who live in dorky places and went to schools no one has heard of.

Liberalism means all lifestyles are equal, unless you shop at Wal-Mart, recognize God's existence or express doubts about the coherence of liberalism. Then you're less equal. That's pride and intolerance, plain and simple. Now, as a Catholic, I subscribe to claims about what is good and what is bad, which can be seen as prideful and intolerant by those who disagree with those claims. Catholicism, however, does not claim that all lifestyles and choices are equal, so there is no contradiction. False Consciousness is invoked by liberals as means of 1) shutting out criticism it cannot rebut, and 2) to get around the apparent betrayal of the equality principle. To be fair, false consciousness is not usually invoked except by people holding far left ideas. How is false consciousness different from the concept of sin? Sin can be left to an individual and God to sort out, through grace given and freely received (or left unresolved through grace rejected). There are sins so grave that the force of law must be drawn in, but the idea of sin has within it the idea that not all problems have their source or solution in human action. False consciousness arising from material creation, on the other hand, can be fixed by altering the false thinking person's material circumstances. Usually that will need to be done by force, even if that force is "only" taxation. When presented with two ideas in a material world, how does one know which is false? Good question. In such a world, the concept of truth (and therefore falsity) is empty. Well, which one ought to correct the other? There is also no ought. The most efficient idea would probably be chosen, although it could be fairly said that that is a mere preference. More likely, the persons wielding the strongest force (power, charisma, credibility) would succeed in discrediting the weaker. Causation Consider the following:
Art, design and politics meet in Joanna Rytel's jewelry collection "Happy abortion-children". Her earrings, brooches, necklaces and rings formed as aborted foetuses, takes a stand for abortion. The idea can be said to be a continuation of her project "Abortkyrkogard.se" on the internet. There many have told of the guilt they have felt after having an abortion. "I wondered about why this was and I believe that it is society that induces the guilt, particularly for girls. I want to do something about it."
Why does this "artist" think that her indifference to abortion is fully her own thought, and that it is the truth freely arrived at through strength of will and intellect? Why is the opposing view something that is not true, but something that is created and therefore false? She has not presented an argument of any kind. The words "society induces" are used in this case merely as adjectives with the intention of discrediting an opposing view. The argument, such as it is, is begs the question. It also leaves open the idea that anyone can be killed at any time if it is deemed "better for them." Conclusion If it isn't obvious by now, I have a very hard time taking Utilitarian Ethics seriously. I cannot accept that something is right at ten o'clock and wrong at two pm, or that it is right in one set of circumstances and wrong in another. I do believe that we operate in very difficult circumstances, in which it is not always clear what the best source of action is. We can easily be faced with a circumstance in which the right choice is not obvious, and we must choose between the lesser of two evils, as best we can. There are also actions that I think are not permissible in any circumstance because if we allow them we open the door to "doing evil that good may come of it." I fall into what Burgess Jackson describes as "commonsense morality" in a fascinating post. I accept Agent Centered Restrictions and I accept that these restrictions have intrinsic value. Ps. I'll accept that not everyone who calls their politics leftist subscribes to everything I've said here. That appears to me to say that they are being inconsistent, however. Is there such a thing as a leftist ethics that is not utilitarian, rationalist, materialistic, consequentialist?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

All Day Seminar

Rebecca and I attended an all day seminar held at a neighboring parish today, in a beautiful new church called St Nicolas'. Professor Janet Smith was the guest speaker and the event was sponsored by nearby Pacific Redeemer College. Rebecca and I first saw Dr. Smith speak on EWTN, a Catholic cable channel (you can get it if you have a digital receiver with Shaw, or also on some satellite channels or on the web). While the quality of the broadcasts on EWTN can vary quite a bit, with some shows being very cheap looking and dull, others are refreshing and good. I like EWTN Bookmark quite a bit, for example. Dr. Smith speaks about Ethics and Bioethics especially. She is very good and knows her subject well. When we learned she was coming to speak so close to us, we decided we ought to attend. Although the event lasted all day, it was not overly long, and it was really nice to see what a strong, faithful and bright young student body looks like up close. I was so impressed. Not everyone was a student. Some people came from as far away as Kamloops or Cash Creek. Pacific Redeemer, I'm told, has an affiliation with Steubenville, which is a hotbed of Catholic Orthodoxy. I'm not intending to write a lot about Smith's presentation on life issues as it was long and I've tread that ground a lot already. I did, however, get a couple of pamphlets that I have not had the chance to look over yet, so you never know.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Religious Realism

Bill's Comment's has some good points about being religious and being real.

Blindness in the PMO

Vomit the Lukewarm has a short but very observant post up about people who simply cannot fathom or will not acknowledge that human irrationality exists. I personally would add that such people are also very often blind to non rational knowledge. I don't think the world is an irrational place - I just think that humans don't have the mHz, the RAM, or the operating system to get the job done at that high a level. What we do is muddle through as best we can. Both errors stem from not fully taking in the implications of other people's freedom. People who think like this really do think that they can control other people through the way they themselves act. It is a form of narcissism. Vomit writes:
Men who are blind in this way will defend their belief as a trust in the dignity an equality of human persons. In truth, however, whenever the blindness is not due simply to ignorance (as might be found in ivory-tower academics who never deal with lazy or willful students, children, criminals, etc.) it is usually due to sloth or vanity- i.e. a desire to be liked at all costs.
I think we have just such a man in the PMO right now. I loathe people who want to be liked at all costs - they are sycophants, and not at all fit to lead. I was no Chretien fan, but whatever his many flaws, they did not hinder his leadership to such a degree. I prefer the company of men and women who will engage debate rigorously and respectfully. Tip: Bill's Comment's

Fountain of Knowledge

This personality quiz was pretty good. I think it got me fairly well.
Wackiness: 22/100 Rationality: 68/100 Constructiveness: 48/100 Leadership: 44/100 You are a SRDF--Sober Rational Destructive Follower. This makes you a Fountain of Knowledge. You are cool, analytical, intelligent and completely unfunny. Sometimes you slice through conversation with a cutting observation that causes silence and sidelong glances. You make a strong and lasting impression on everyone you meet, the quality of which depends more on their personality than yours. You may feel persecuted, as you can become a target for fun. Still, you are focused enough on your work and secure enough in your abilities not to worry overly. You are productive and invaluable to those you work for. You are loyal, steadfast, and conscientious. Your grooming is impeccable. You are in good shape. You are kind of a tool, but you get things done. You are probably a week away from snapping. Addendum, 2004/07/19: this fits me 99%, there is a slight inaccuracy however. We are not necessarily completely unfunny. If we have a sense of humor (I do) it surfaces on the occasion with well-timed, completely dry, very sarcastic, wit. - Chase Of the 83734 people who have taken this quiz since tracking began (8/17/2004), 7.5 % are this type.
I have to agree with the addendum on humour too. I am one of those guys who will sit and listen to the conversation, observing people and what's discussed without saying overly much until I'm comfortble with the dynamic. I am also the guy who will nail something and catch others wondering where that came from. That dry humour thing is right too, and there are some people who simply don't get that, so yes, it is more dependent on them than me.

Fire Away

From Cox and Forkum Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 27, 2005

New blog

I have been dutifully maintaining the blogroll to the right, adding new ones when I find something I like (and think people who like NWW might like), deleting inactive blogs, and doing it pretty quietly. There is, however, a new blog that I'm pretty excited about and I want to point it out so no one misses it. Keith Burgess Jackson has started a blog called The Conservative Philosopher, which will be a group blog. The names signing on are impressive - Burgess- Jackson himself, Bill Vacellia, John Kekes, Roger Scruton and more. I also heard a rumor that Jim Ryan (who did Philosoblog a while back but dropped out due to time constraints) is on board too. You might even find my comments on Ryan's old blog. Or even a link to my old pre blogger site. I am taking tonight off and catching up on reading this new entry. The topic of the moment seems to be "what is conservatism?" I doubt anything I put here would be better, so you're invited to check it out. At the moment the biggest drawback I can see is that the comment links and permalinks are one and the same, which is a bit confusing at first. A key to the writer's initials would also be very helpful. ***** Ok, there seems to be a problem with the code for the site feed, and it is making the author's list invisible in Firefox (but not in IE). Keith has also linked to little old me. Wow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Links!

Keith Burgess-Jackson offers a defense of traditional marriage. And John the Mad shares his thoughts on a controversy (one that is right in my back yard) that shows Burgess-Jackson's reasonable defense is falling on some deaf ears.

Guarding the Taproot

Russell Kirk's Six Points Continued
Three. Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. "The wisdom of our ancestors" is one of the more important phrases in the writings of [Edmund] Burke; presumably Burke derived it from Richard Hooker. Conservatives sense that modern men are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see further than our ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time. Therefore, conservatives very frequently emphasize the importance of "prescription" - that is, of things established by immemorial usage... There exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity... similarly, our morals are prescriptive in great part. Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in politics or morals or taste. It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. "The individual is foolish but the species is wise," Burke declared... the innovator, in [George] Santayana's phrase, never knows how near to the taproot of the tree he is hacking.
There is a lot of good stuff here. Where to begin? How about with Linux? Now what does Linux - cutting edge operating system software - have to do with any of this, or with Kirk, who looks like he might have written all of his works with a number two pencil? The similarity is in the respect for a long standing distributed process that has produced something proven to be very capable for long periods and myriad circumstances. Linus Torvalds did much to get the ball rolling and from what I have read he has done really good work on it, but the sum total is greater than his or any other person's contribution. I see a parallel in the Judeo Christian morals that western civilization was built on. Even if you discount a divine hand in it, Judeo Christian ethics really are remarkable. Christianity, at 2,000 years old, is impressive enough. That it has survived that long at all is surprising and indicative of above average strength in penetrating the human condition. That is much older than Canada or the U.S., which are 200 years old (give or take), and also older than any European civilization you care to name. If we then look at the Old Testament, which we inherit from the Jews, we have to tack on another 4,000 years. That is a long development process, one that we might be inclined to say has eliminated most of the bugs. One could also say that nothing man made could ever have survived - and thrived! - for such a long period of time, and that such strength and depth are evidence of a divine hand. Conservatives, regardless of how they approach the question of Christian ethics, as a skeptic or a believer, see such an old and successful entity as something that has to be respected. They - rightly, IMHO - think it is extraordinary unlikely that any one person or group could create anything better from scratch. Yet that is what the French Revolutionaries attempted; they even tried to create a new calendar starting in year one of what they called the "age of reason." History is full of such projects, and some were done under the name of "authentic" Chrisitianity. Some might argue that mere survival is no proof of anything, especially since ancient people had many superstitions that we can be pretty certain are false. I'll grant that survival is only an inductive proof, but inductive proofs are not useless (there's no getting away from them, in fact) and the series in question is so long that a conclusion that correctly flows from it would be pretty solid. But can we rely on what ancient people tell us? They got their astronomy messed up, and much else besides. That is all very true. But one has to understand that they were not stupid, and we are not brilliant. We stand at the end of a longer chain of development. It is easier for us to make astronomical discoveries because we had knowledge of telescopes handed on to us, and many other inventions that have freed up our time. There is no tool, however, that would enable us to better understand human nature and human dynamics. Medicine and psychology are helpful - they help us to understand some of the constraints that we work under. Consciousness remains a mystery, however, and it is not clear how it could be established that a brain state corresponds to a particular thought or motive. In other words, when it comes to understanding our nature and our group dynamics, we are only a little better off than ancient peoples. The existence of other people as agents like ourselves is something that we still have to take on faith. This is a very large problem for utopians and radicals of all kinds and it goes a long way to explaining why such schemes have such a terrible failure rate. Your Communist, Socialist, Facist, Utopian is building from zero (or close to it) and doing it in a fishtank, more or less. Even worse, they typically blame their failure on Christian societies which they then set out to attack or dismantle from the inside. Another objection can be made, and that is that simply because Judeo Christian ethics have a good history of describing human nature and society, there is no reason a better methods cannot be found. That is some truth to that, and no conservative or Christian should deny it. What they would say is that an entirely new creation is extraordinarily unlikely, but that new insights are always possible - that God's revelation to his people is ongoing. It might also be said that through science we can and ought to pursue an objective, descriptive summary of what we are and how we ought to live. There are many objections that can be made here. First, this is a misunderstanding of science. To do proper science, one needs to be able to tightly control variables. We can't come up with a science of global warming because we cannot determine what inputs are natural and what are man made. A model is not the same thing as an experiment. If that is the case, then it would be impossible to do a complete science of human behavior for the same reasons. And if it was possible, then human behavior would be purely determined, none of us would have any freedom and designing a human ethics would be a pointless exercise. Secondly, even if we were able to create a scientific descritiption of humanity, there is still the problem of deriving an "ought" from an "is." That dilemma is known as Hume's fork, and it either shows that not all knowledge comes from reason, or that there is no such thing as morality. Conservatives would answer is the only first choice is a reasonable one and hence the greater willingness to accept wisdom handed down. We may not know why something works, but we sense that it does, or it would not have been handed down for any great length of time.

A Good Day

I haven't ridden a horse in my life and the closest I've come was probably a pony ride at the PNE when I was five, but that doesn't mean I don't groove on the idea... This is a nice tune by George Canyon. He's from Canada, eh?
Good Day to Ride Every morning when I wake up I pour coffee in my cup And I look out on the fields Of the land that I call home And if there's no chance of rain And I need to get away I'll grab a saddle And be long, long gone Looks like a good day to ride Underneath this big warm sun Looks like a good day To let this old boy fly Loose on the reins and on the run To a blue and endless sky Looks like a good day to ride There's a world that's in a race For some money and some fame But out here there's nothin' All I need is what I have So when I wanna free my mind From the concrete inside I head for the mountains Back to who I am
Rebecca also likes his newer track, "I'll never do better than you." I like it too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Media Ethics

Dissecting Leftism has a link up to a site called Brookes News, which makes a number of accusations about the MSM's coverage of the Iraq, such as I'm not familiar with Brookes, but these stories seem plausible to me. I think media coverage of Iraq has been horrid from the get go, with everything seen through the prism of Vietnam and "imperialism" and ooooiill. I also think playing video tape of hostages pleading for their lives is reprehensible. While watching the NFL playoffs on the weekend, there was a moment when a fan raced out onto the field. The camera moved off of him almost immediately. This is done to thwart the "fame" such people seek. I have to wonder why, if a sports cast crew can get it right, why can't the western MSM? I'm not saying don't report it, I'm saying try to do so in a way that your are not a pawn for one side. But then in the media today one finds a lot of "stories" that sound suspiciously like press releases simply edited for word count. See also here.

Love and Marriage

Commitment Adam Spitz wrote on his blog:
Our culture tries to make us think that it's a good thing to promise to never change your mind about someone, but I don't think that it is. I think love is more meaningful when you can say to the other person, "I could leave, but I choose not to, because I still want to be with you more than I want to be with anybody else." Once you've promised not to leave, you can't say that anymore.
Adam's comments came up in a a lively discussion about SSM at Andrew's Bound by Gravity. The question of commitment is a bit off the topic but it's interesting nevertheless. I'd to put forward an argument why I think Adam's argument, which he admits he hold tenuously, is not a good idea. "I could leave, but I choose not to, because I still want to be with you more than I want to be with anybody else." There are a lot of I's in that sentence. In fact, the whole thing is bound up with what "I" think and what "I" feel. If a marriage really is based on Love - not luv, but capital L, mature Love - then you will care about that other person as much as yourself, if not more. With this formulation, you are staying in the relationship because "it works for me"; the implication is that if it works for the other person, well, that's nice but not necessary. It means you are using the other person in order to evoke feelings in yourself that are pleasurable. In contrast, taking a public vow of lifelong duration is admirable because it says that "I know there may be times when my passion for you will rise and fall, but I will not put my own personal feelings over my commitment to you." This view of love is properly other centered. This is the kind of love that stays when something horrible happens - cancer, brain damage, etc. Under the first definition, as soon as you're not getting what you want, or it becomes hard, you'll probably bug out. We all have moments when we are not out best. Who wants to live in such a way that our behavior is always hostage to our marriage? That is how any old friendship or acquaintance works. There are obviously limits, but marriage is different from those kinds of relationships because when the commitment is in place you can let your hair down a bit, without fear that you will be judged and rejected in short order. Marriage should be about giving, not getting. It is a sanctuary from the upheaval of ordinary friendships. C.S. Lewis described the idea that a marriage is binding only so long as one or both parties are in the full throws of passion as a parody of what love really is. I'm of the same view. One of the best descriptions of marriage that I have heard is that it is like rock polishing. You place two rocks into a grinder with some sand (call it family) and let them be turned over and over in the machine, for years and years. All the rough edges are ground away and when you finally take the stones out, what you have are two highly polished, smooth and beautiful objects that are almost nothing like the stones you started with.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Living Order

Russell Kirk 1918 - 1994 Ten years after his death, Russell Kirk remains a favourite writer of conservatives. His books include The Conservative Mind, in which he looks at conservative thought from Edmund Burke to T.S. Eliot, and The Roots of American Order. A collection of his essays is available here. A review of Kirk and The Conservative Mind is here. Kirk is known for being a defender of what he called "the Permanent Things." He is also known for what he called The Six Points of Conservatism, which is what I want to look at over a few days. My source is his introduction to The Viking Portable Conservative Reader, which he edited. *****
One: Conservatives generally believe there exists a transcendent moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society. A divine tactic, dimly seen, is at work in the ways of society. Such convictions may take the form of belief in "natural law" or may assume some other expression; but with few exceptions conservatives recognize the need for enduring moral authority. This conviction contrasts strongly with the liberals' utilitarian view of the state... and with the radicals' detestation of theological postulates.
When I was doing a lot reading about Darwinism a few years ago, before I was a Christian, I put some time and effort into trying to place the square peg of a "a transcendent moral order" into the round hole of Darwinian Naturalism. I really believed in both, and I wanted to find a way to combine them. The notion that I might have to choose was a bit frightful. My best hope, I believed, was in utility. There had to be some point at which Darwinian survivalism -"red in tooth and claw"- and what I called "human flourishing" were balanced against one another. Human flourishing would be things seemingly useless for survival but which made the huge effort it takes to live seem worthwhile - say, J.S. Bach, and acts of charity that someone had no reasonable hope of having returned. I had in mind placing one on the X axis of a graph and the other on the Y, in the same way that economists balance demand and supply in order to come up with the market price, or the market's price range. I thought the point where those two things met would be the equivalent of a transcendent moral order, since the idea of anything being literally transcendent was still beyond me. I could never convince myself that it would reasonable because once you introduce a survivalist element, you always bump up against the notion that anything that leads to survival is justified. Richard Dawkins wrote about an interesting concept called the extended phenotype, which is the idea that genes create not only the creature that carries them, but also work to influence the environment the creature inhabits. The idea is that beaver genes, for example, create not only beavers, but also beaver dams. So I began to wonder if J.S. Bach and even seemingly selfless acts of charity might simply be efforts to make the human environment better suited to human replication. Once on this path, however, it is hard to imagine anything that could be considered wrong in all circumstances - murder, rape, etc. It is also hard to justify hope, charity and forgiveness as anything more than grease for the human gene machine, civilization. Frustrated on the Darwinian side, I began to want to know more about Natural Law. Natural Law theory holds that laws governing morality are real objects that we can discover and use to evaluate man made law. That was a key idea for me, as I find the notion that governments can rule in any fashion very repugnant. The Final Solution was legal but it was objectively wrong. I find it interesting that Natural Law was invoked (correctly!) in the English parliament's struggle against the absolutist aims of the Monarchy and now that Liberalism is triumphant, it has turned its back on the concept with a vengeance. Natural Law is a serious threat to the ambition of any government and that is one of it's better attractions. Ruling powers - the Monarchs and now our Liberal class - tend to favour what is called Legal Positivism, under which the only rights anyone has are those described in the law, which only intersects with ethics from time to time. The difficulty with Natural Law is in the discovery, and prioritizing of goods. This is where history, culture and tradition come into play.
Two: Conservatives uphold the principal of social continuity. They prefer the devil they know to they don't know. Order and justice and freedom, they believe are the artificial products of a long and painful experience, the results of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice... A human society is no machine, to be treated mechanically... Necessary change, they argue, ought to be gradual... never "unfixing old interests at once." Revolution slices through the arteries of a culture, a cure that kills.
Libertarians and social conservatives can be likened to a couple of cats in a bag. They represent the poles of thought that one finds in the large tent of Conservativism. The social conservatives will sometimes argue that libertarians are not conservative, and the libertarians vice versa. I think that libertarians are conservatives who have turned their distaste for government into an ideology and as a result, they have stretched the idea too far. Social conservatives can be accused of using the government in a left leaning manner - not respecting the bounds of what a government can enforce or have reasonable knowledge about. The one thing I think the social conservatives really get right in the field of political theory is that order, justice and freedom are artificial products and that a government rightly acts to protect those things when a society becomes civilized enough to produce them. It has only so much knowledge and so much energy, however, and must attempt to get the most bang for the buck. This is why I think efforts to define, protect and encourage the family are not beyond the bounds of proper government and other things are, even when they are wrong. Hard working, decent citizens simply do not fall out of trees. People can turn their backs on children in many ways. Child welfare - and I don't mean just their material needs - needs to be encouraged, and, failing that, other means for their protection and learning found. As for the maxim that the devil you know is better than the one you don't, there is a biological precedent for it. Mutations are indeed much more likely to kill or main a creature than do it any good. The idea of viewing a society as an organism is very old and very common to Conservative thought. Aristotle did it, and so did Christ when he said that he was the root and we the branches. Heck, even Dawkins said it when he explored the extended phenotype. I doubt he'd like the implications of the idea in a transcedental value system, however. That was the very thing he set out to refute. In doing so, however, he falls into the leftist trap of trying to establish a new value system after not just correcting the old one, but subverting the entire concept. And that shows the wisdom of pruning versus mulching when dealing with ethics and a great many other things besides.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Links!

Building a Conservative culture - A look at the tally in the US. Things are not so good here in The Great Wet North. Adam Daifallah offers suggestions for changing that. It's very much like what I've said all along, but he seems, to my eyes, to put too much emphasis on rich white knights coming to our rescue. I say, grab a hammer and saw and let's get this thing built. You and me, right now. Got a blog? Get one. Can't find the time? Comment away. You have friends, right? Learn to talk the talk, and then walk the walk. Got a few bucks? Find an organization and give. If you can organize, so much the better. Recently I was heartened to see a TV ad from a pro life organization that I support. "Hey! I did that..." I don't have a problem with white knights, but I'm not sitting around waiting for one. ***** Canada - More proof that a great many Canadians have no sense of humour whatsoever. Or perhaps they do but they are so blinded by envy and jealousy of the U.S. that their minds explode when they turn their shriveled little peanuts to the very idea our self image might be inaccurate. "How dare they! We're the greatest nation on earth. Kofi and the U.N. and the CBC say so! Jack Layton! Tim Hortons! They wouldn't lie...." *poof* There goes another one. Their insistence on reading the comments in that link in such a literalist, fundamentalist manner is a complete mystery to me. I thought everybody knew the correct answer to such commentary is "Oh yeah? Well, your Momma... " Use your imagination. ***** Abortion - Keith Burgess-Jackson writes that Liberals are too elitist to trust most people with the freedom to make their own choices and asks why abortion is different:
Liberals don’t really care about choice. First, they don’t trust people to make good choices. Look at the rhetoric during and after the presidential election. To explain why President Bush was reelected, liberals say that the American people were ignorant (of relevant facts), stupid, or duped by devious Republicans. If only the American people would follow their more educated and intelligent betters, they would be fine.
His answer:
Giving women the “choice” to kill their fetuses keeps a lot of people working and keeps the money coming in to feminist coffers (largely through fear-mongering). Perhaps I’m cynical, but I don’t see liberals as principled defenders of individual choice. I see them as defenders of turf. They’re motivated by self-interest, not altruism.
Black humour from the Evangelical Outpost. Barbara Nicolosi has a moving post on the anniversary of Roe. ***** SSM - Burgess also offers some common sense in the SSM debate here. He also quotes Robert George on how opposition to SSM is unlike the opposition to mixed race marriage:
It is certainly unjust arbitrarily to deny legal marriage to persons who are capable of performing marital acts and entering into the marital relationship. So, for example, laws forbidding interracial marriages truly were violations of equality. ...laws that embody the judgment that marriage is intrinsically heterosexual are in no way analogous to laws against miscegenation. Laws forbidding whites to marry blacks were unjust, not because they embodied a particular moral view and thus violated the alleged requirement of moral neutrality; rather, they were unjust because they embodied an unsound (indeed a grotesquely false) moral view, one that was racist and, as such, immoral.
George undoubtedly means marital acts to include having children, and very likely he means demonstrating a healthy relationship between the sexes. Why do some who fight tooth and nail to get kids into the "right" school and the "right" after school program give every indication that they don't care who raises them? Do they think these programs will have a greater effect than a home? I'm not talking about intent of SSM couples here, which I don't question. Their kids have 90% or better odds of being straight and there's no example to follow. Respect and love are necessary but I doubt they alone are sufficient. Male - female intimacy is difficult and the way forward is not always obvious, but the rewards in overcoming difference are great.

Top Priority number 736,098,567

"The role of the prime minister of this country is to protect the rights of minorities, and protecting the rights of the minorities is certainly a question about which the government of Canada will be prepared to go to the people on," Martin said.
Paul Martin is just such an ass it is impossible to like him. The job of the Prime Minister is to govern the country in the interest of all of the people and saying otherwise is close to being unfit for the job. It's a balancing act, you idiot.

Troy

Pagan Virtue Rebecca and I saw Troy last weekend and enjoyed it a lot. It is a tremendous spectacle, something like a Searching for Private Ryan set in ancient Greece, in which the search is for a pagan princess rather than a US Private. As I was watching it I was struck by how the paganism of the Greeks and the Trojans impacted their actions. Fame, wealth and power are right at the forefront of their thinking, dominating any sense of right they may have had. In the background, however, there is a sense of sadness. A feeling that no matter what they achieve they will always be at risk of dying forever by being forgotten. Remembrance plays very largely, I think, because the concept of Hades is not very appealing and is not held with any great conviction. I did a bit of searching on Paganism before attempting this post and once again G.K. Chesterton comes to my rescue. The quantity and quality of his output really is remarkable. The following comparison is from his book Heretics, from the chapter Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson. Dickenson is an author whose fame has not reached us, but who advocated the virtue of a return to pagan values. He sounds like he could have been an early gulf islander. This may be him here. Chesterton writes:
There is one broad fact about the relations of Christianity and Paganism which is so simple that many will smile at it, but which is so important that all moderns forget it. The primary fact about Christianity and Paganism is that one came after the other. ... The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues, and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome calls virtues of grace. The pagan, or rational, virtues are such things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them. The three mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted, but invented, are faith, hope, and charity. ... I desire to confine myself to the two facts which are evident about them. The first evident fact (in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing pagan)--the first evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such as justice and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical virtues of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues. And the second evident fact, which is even more evident, is the fact that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues, and that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in their essence as unreasonable as they can be. ... It is somewhat amusing, indeed, to notice the difference between the fate of these three paradoxes in the fashion of the modern mind. Charity is a fashionable virtue in our time; it is lit up by the gigantic firelight of Dickens. Hope is a fashionable virtue to-day; our attention has been arrested for it by the sudden and silver trumpet of Stevenson. But faith is unfashionable, and it is customary on every side to cast against it the fact that it is a paradox. Everybody mockingly repeats the famous childish definition that faith is "the power of believing that which we know to be untrue." Yet it is not one atom more paradoxical than hope or charity. Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and, eclipse. It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. Whatever may be the meaning of faith, it must always mean a certainty about something we cannot prove. Thus, for instance, we believe by faith in the existence of other people. ... Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men. But the essential point of it is merely this, that whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men. All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired. And this doctrine does away altogether with Carlyle's pathetic belief (or any one else's pathetic belief) in "the wise few." There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob. Every oligarchy is merely a knot of men in the street--that is to say, it is very jolly, but not infallible. And no oligarchies in the world's history have ever come off so badly in practical affairs as the very proud oligarchies... Many modern Englishmen talk of themselves as the sturdy descendants of their sturdy Puritan fathers. As a fact, they would run away from a cow.
You can read more about the movie Troy here and about the ancient city here.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Active Voice

From The Angel's Blackboard: The Best of Fulton J. Sheen:
The repeated use of the word crisis in reference to morals is interesting, for it reveals a tendency on the part of many modern writers to blame the abstract when the concrete is really at fault. They speak, for example, of the problem of crime, rather than the criminal; of the problem of poverty, rather than the poor; and of the crisis in morals, when really it is a crisis among people who are not living morally. The crisis is not in ethics but in the unethical. The failure is not in the law, but in the law breakers... There are ultimately only two possible adjustments in life: one is to suit our lives to our principals; the other is to suit our principals to our lives. "If we do not live as we think, we soon begin to think as we live"... Many a budding liberal mathematician cannot crush the urge to say that three times three equals six... This kind of philosophy would never have permitted the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11) to return to his father's house. It would have settled the "crisis" by finding a new and handsome name for the husks he was throwing to the swine, and called it "progress away from antiquated modes of morality."
Fulton Sheen (1895-1979), was the Archbishop of Newport. He is famous for the Television series Life is Worth Living, which ran on NBC from 1951 to 1957. I have found Sheen's book to be a bit hit and miss so far, but I enjoyed this passage. It reminded me of how much modern people view themselves and others as helpless meat puppets who can't really be held accountable for anything at all. In the name of 'liberty' they peel back and peel back the realm in which we can wield an active voice in our thinking and doing, and when we are painted into a corner and shown how little agency we have, they propose we yield it to the government, which is somehow not crimped by the forces that plague everyone who pays into it or who runs it. I for one do not believe that free agency is an emergent property that governments have. I think this is simply a new twist on aristocratic snobbery that would have the so called able convince the rest of us that we are peasants with little more life than a cabbage. Anybody see the first episode of the new Apprentice? The new season looks at the contestants through class rather than gender. They're calling it "street smarts vs. book smarts" and it looks like it might be interesting. Street smarts won the first contest handily and had a 3:1 lead in earnings going into the contest.

Thirtysomething

You Are 31 Years Old
31
Under 12: You are a kid at heart. You still have an optimistic life view - and you look at the world with awe. 13-19: You are a teenager at heart. You question authority and are still trying to find your place in this world. 20-29: You are a twentysomething at heart. You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences. 30-39: You are a thirtysomething at heart. You've had a taste of success and true love, but you want more! 40+: You are a mature adult. You've been through most of the ups and downs of life already. Now you get to sit back and relax.
Yip: Siris Jonah Goldberg on how people my age are getting older very quickly due to technology.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Conversion stories

The Curt Jester writes one of the funniest Catholic blogs around. His conversion story is here. Julie at Happy Catholic writes one of the best family oriented Catholic blogs that I have seen. Yes, it's a regular stop. Her story is here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Not Zombies

Timmy and some others have been debating the merits of my post on the recent Bishop Henry kerfufle. Timmy the G left a comment that has puzzled me and which I will try to tease some meaning from. He wrote:
First, the bishop is exhorting his parishioners to pressure the public government to impose these beliefs on all Canadians, who represent many different faiths.
So what of it? I belong to a union the routinely tells me how evil I vote and that I am basically a dirty slime mold for thinking the way I do. I throw all of their publications out and ignore everything they say. Especially when it comes to the ballot box. If they told me to cross the road on green, I'd step out on red. Here's the thing though. I have no choice in this matter, unless I want to change jobs and put my family through serious strain. Those publications I toss are paid for from my dues. I can't refuse to pay for them or direct my fees in any way. Catholics are not obliged to vote a certain way. They are told that their conscience should be informed about what their church teaches, the issues at hand, and about the policies the parties propose. They are then told to search for a way to balance these needs, and it is fully expected that we may come to different conclusions. Some people will vote for a party with no hope of gaining power in order to keep their conscience clear. Others will vote to block a party or a policy they don't like. Most will probably vote for someone they think represents the best balance in recognition that no matter how we act and vote, everything we do involves trade offs. In short there is no predicting how the faithful will react to the Bishop's letter. I think you're still in thrall to the monkey see monkey do thinking you showed in your reaction to Fox TV coming to Canada. Give people some credit for having idependent brains, ok? Because it's a church it does not mean we're a bunch of zombies. Timmy continues:
Secondly, he [Bishop Henry] lumps in homosexuals - a distinct group of Canadians who are who they are - with behaviors (adultery, pornography, etc.) of which anyone can be guilty. That is wrong, in my opinion, and spouting these things under the guise of religion is even more wrong.
What does that mean, "homosexuals - a distinct group of Canadians who are who they are"? You're saying that they are what they do? Am I to understand that you think gays are distinct sub species of humanity, a distinction on par with a race? That's the only sense I can make of that. The church's position is that we are all, gay and straight, human beings. We all do things. That does not make us those things. The implication of saying that gays are a different sort of human seems to be used here to say: since they really are different, then they can and ought to be treated differently, in a manner that is more in keeping with their nature. Am I understanding you correctly? You're assuming genetically compelled behavior? I think there is great risk here. FIRST, on method. The issue would seem to be one of equality for things that are different. There are two schools of thought here - does equality refer to the process under discussion or to the results? If we are talking about results, then this is where people generally push for things like quotas. The quotas are an attempt to override different results. As has been pointed out in this debate before, treating people differently usually has the effect of creating resentment. One group will feel the other is unfairly getting better treatment, or that its uniqueness is not being properly recognized. Candidly, I suspect both groups often have a case. It is notoriously difficult to get something like this right. Why? Philosophically this is the problem of knowledge. We don't truly know things as they really are. And people being people, they will exploit any advantage they see, including victimhood. Thus differences, or the perception of them, become magnified. Rightly or wrongly, the church has always taught that we are ultimately equal - really, truly equal - only before God. Before Men, the chosen route has been to apply a rule equally even when it is known in advance that it will impact different people differently. This avoids pitting groups against one another in a fight for recognition and rights. The trials this can create are seen as purifying for the person involved. I know today the very idea that a struggle can be beneficial is anathema to some, but this belief goes right to the core of the faith. Furthermore, the trials of the world are viewed as being from God. Dampening the trial aspect is Charity. Those who achieve less or more are not more or less worthy than those closer to the mean. By embracing equality of ends, ie. by saying that gays are different and ought to be treated as such, there is an assumption that this can only be for their benefit. But difference can also be exploited in negative ways. There is nothing to say that once this difference is established that down the road it cannot be used punitively. It is the minority party in a quota system that is most vulnerable here. SECOND: on fact. It is widely assumed in may that gayness is a caused behavior, with the most likely culprit being genetic. It could even have some truth - but it is not proven yet. The truth at this moment is that we simply don't know why this happens. I've done some reading on evolutionary psychology and it is a very interesting subject, but also a very problematic one. No one has ever proven a link between a behavior and a gene. This is the nature / nurture problem and it is a problem because there is no way to separate the impact of the environment from that of the gene. Furthermore, a gene may act one way most of the time but act another if it is paired with certain other genes. Example: are some people height X because a gene or a complex of genes dictated it? Or is height X because the environment was good or hostile? If it is all of the above (most likely), to which degree did each play a part? Leaning on genes to explain behavior also necessarily an attack on responsibility. It's a messy can of worms. In short, my point is that if we have any degree of freedom and we're not flesh robots, then we must take responsibility for behavior. We all operate under various constraints. That doesn't mean we are helpless. Church goers aren't zombies and neither are gays or adulterers. ****** I was going to speak to church and state issues you raise but I'm running out of time, and I did touch on it not too long ago. See here. I could say more in the future if time allows. Treehugger is saying some odd things about it again today and has asked some questions I might like to respond to.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Oh! Henry

There are a hoard of bloggers jumping all over Bishop Henry of Calgary for a letter he sent out on the subject of Same Sex Marriage. They include Timmy the G and Treehugger at Heart of the Matter, both of whom say they are Catholic, and also The Upper Canadian. To my fresh Catholic eyes, it seems that Timmy and Teresa do not seem to have understood what the good Bishop wrote. The Upper Canadian is on a high hobby horse of his own. How else am I to understand Timmy's question at The Upper Canadian: "Why must a gay Catholic couple accept the fact that their relationship will never be consecrated the same way another couple's will be? What's left for them in their faith if they are told God considers them evil?" One can understand how someone coming from outside could ask that. Does Tim own a copy of the Catechism? Has he ever opened it? It's on the web too, so no excuses. I'll cut him some slack since he admits not being a regular church goer, and from that I'll surmise that he's not a church reader either. But that being the case, why take such tone? Why not seek to understand before hitting the keyboard? I can answer Tim's question. Readers may disagree with me and the Bishop after you read the explanation, but it is my hope that you will at least better understand it. I do not intend in this post to go into the subject of Natural Law or why a gay union can't fulfill marriage, why a man and a women have the potential to do so, and why and how they might fail to fulfill it. If you're curious I suggest thinking about the self control that the deepest self giving requires. The are web resources available. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
#2357: Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

#2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

#2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

It is very difficult for me to see how out of any of this can be read Timmy's suggestion that the Catholic Church "hates" gays and thinks they are "evil." One might disagree with the suggestion that gays should attempt to live a chaste life. One can do that if one is willing to unravel the whole faith. What one cannot take from this suggestion is that it is hypocritical. Why not? Because the church makes exactly the same claim to all unmarried people. Also from the Catechism (from the same section):

#2348 All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has "put on Christ,"[134] the model for all chastity. All Christ's faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.

#2349 "People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single." Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence: There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others.... This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.

#2350 Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity.

The teaching here and throughout the Catechism separates the person and the sin. A gay person, even failing to live up to what is asked, is welcome. They are certainly not evil. No sinner is considered to be evil, only the sin. This is no different from the rest of the congregation, who might be struggling with gambling or pornography or what have you. I'm not going to apologize for the sex scandal that has erupted in the Church, or apologize for how it was handled. The Religious people that make up the church are people, just like the rest of us are people. The vocation does not give them immunity from sin or error (don't bring up Papal infallibility- people always bring that up, not realizing that it is very narrowly it is defined). So, yes, they messed up in allowing it to happen and again in not dealing with it effectively. That sex scandal has no bearing on this question, or none that I can see. The teaching in question is much, much older than the scandal. Every time the Catholic Church is attacked this pops up. I understand the sense of betrayal and the disappointment and anger. But attacking the person instead of the argument is a very poor logical tactic. Doing so, however, is much easier than dealing with the actual argument in question. So is bringing up the subject of Leviticus and the bans on things that are allowed today - Leviticus does not apply to the question at all, yeah or nay. It is a historical document with a narrow application. As for the question of coercion, coercion takes many forms. There is no need to read into the Bishop's words policemen breaking into people's homes. When this is the first conclusion reached, it says more about the reader than it does the writer. I'll leave off with a few words from Thomas Merton's book, No Man is an Island:
To love another is to will what is really good for him. Such love must be based on truth. A love that sees no distinction between good and evil, but loves blindly merely for the sake of loving, is hatred rather than love. To love blindly is to love selfishly, because the goal of such love is not the real advantage of the beloved but only the exercise of love in our own souls.
Just in case there is any doubt, that quote is not directed at gays, but at those who cannot see how it is possible for anyone to take issue with the claims of gay lobbyists, except out of hate. Yes, that means The Upper Canadian and others taking this path:
"Love the sinner, hate the sin" is merely code. It is insincere at best; at worst, it's a cover for bigotry and intolerance. It means, in truth, "I am about to say some really nasty things about gays and lesbians." It's like saying you love your mother, than proceeding to call her an awful, lazy whore. Sorry, it doesn't wash.
If that were so, how would anyone ever be able to correct anyone about anything? If I say, Micheal, you don't seem to understand Orthodoxy, or the difference between a verb and a noun, will you think that I hate you and your blog? The distinction is basic and you've as a result you've got quite a knot here. ***** John the Mad offers his fine opinions here.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Miracle of Freedom

When North Western Winds passed 1,000 hits back in the fall (NWW has been around only since August of last year), I did a short little post thanking regular readers and thinking aloud about the blog as I saw it evolving. On the weekend, NWW passed 5,000 hits and I feel another such reflection is due. The weekend also saw the closing of the Canadian Blog Awards, in which NWW was nominated for "Best Conservative blog." I don't know who nominated me, but a big hearty thanks for that. Mike Brock, at Brock: on the Attack won that category and I freely acknowledge that he has a fine blog over there. It was instructive to see the list of blogs that were nominated for the CBA. I have tried to carve out a niche for NWW, to position it so that it might fill a purpose that, to the best of my knowledge, is wide open in the Canadian blogosphere. NWW is undoubtedly and very intentionally a Conservative blog. What is different is that NWW is unapologetically Conservative on both the economic and social axes. There are plenty of Canadian blogs that are Conservative in a Libertarian vein, of which Brock: On the Attack might be one of the best. And there are Canadian blogs that are more conventionally conservative, but who do not focus much on the subject of religion. Perhaps because I am a recent convert, and perhaps because I'm too dumb to know any better, NWW has not been shy about discussing religion. Despite not backing away from the 'R' word, and despite its thoroughgoing Conservatism, it is not my intent on this blog to be radical or extreme. I am not a Conservative radical, not a reactionary, and I am not a theocrat. The aim here is to connect common modern conservative political aims with their roots in the culture that birthed them, i.e. in the traditional, mainstream religion of the West - in Christianity. In doing so I hope in some small way to put a robust and muscular flesh on the bones of Canadian Conservatism - not "small c" Conservatism, or "compassionate" Conservatism, but Conservatism, free of adjectives and qualifiers - because there is nothing wrong with the ideas behind it, and a great deal that is right. Conservatism as I see it English and American Conservatism is rich and strong, with many fine thinkers and writers to draw on, but Canadians, for the most part, seem to be unaware of them. When we are aware of them we wrongly convince ourselves that their ideas cannot possibly be of any use in a country that is so thinly spread out and so divided. Reading Edmund Burke would help us to understand the strengths of our parliamentary tradition, so that we might stop looking longingly at the unstable coalitions of the Fifth (eighteenth?) Republic of France or the new European Union. F. A. Hayek would tell us much about the folly of planning and of socialism, Roger Scruton would tell us about the deeply human face of Conservatism, and Russell Kirk would give us its historical underpinnings. Because it speaks deeply to the experience of what it is to be human, Conservatism ought to be able to reach out to anyone in this country who is not in thrall to a modern mechanical ideology of some sort. Since at least the post war years, Conservatives in Canada have bought into the Liberal definition of the separation of church and state. As a result, Conservative culture lives quietly in people's homes and in the churches, while Liberalism is found in those places and everywhere else too - especially in the schools and in the media. As a result of ceding the culture, Canadian Conservatives are always on the defensive. We have unwittingly swallowed the idea that even speaking our ideas in public spaces means we are overstepping the boundaries of political decorum in Canada. We apologize too much and we defend too meekly. We must act such that we are the defacto defenders of the people, and of the best of their traditions. We might start with the separation of church and state, which does not mean the establishment of secular Liberalism as a replacement for Anglicanism. It means that a person or a party that is too zealous in applying its religious underpinnings risks being thrown out by the people on election day. Canadian Conservatives of recent times lack conviction and definition. Given its organic and piecemeal nature, there is something inherently indefinite about Conservatism, but not so much so that we can call Joe Clark a Conservative and seriously mean it. We have lost touch with our heritage in ways that other Anglo countries have not - the English, the Americans, and the Australians have done a better job of rejecting the idea that Christianity cannot accommodate and respectfully rule a country that is no longer as heterogeneous as it once was. We have lost the connection between Christianity and freedom. When Conservativism presents only its Libertarian face, we are perceived by those in the centre as destroyers of culture and tradition, rather than it's protectors. Showing one face also gives the appearance of hiding something. Conservatives offer libertarianism to the country as an compromise or an olive branch of sorts, but it is is viewed by many as a club that would endanger people's defenses against the strong, and risk placing them in a more Darwinian state. It's not such a mystery that all but the strongest recoil from that image. What is a mystery is that so many for so long have embraced the slow burning acid of Liberalism. Christianity, presented properly, can give Conservatives the warm, open face they need. It is the glue that binds a nation such that Liberty is embraced and Liberalism is rejected. That is the point of view that I write from. As I have thought about this blog and what I want to do with it, it has become more and more obvious that this might be a niche that I can fill in the Canadian blogosphere. If there are others doing it already, that's great! I simply haven't found you yet... Given my chosen subject and the depth I hope to bring to it, I'll probably continue to post essays of various sizes. I will try my best to keep them bite sized so that normal human beings can read it over coffee and then get on with their lives. I also plan to continue posting collections of links from time to time. Freedom is miraculous G.K. Chesterton dealt with the irrepressible freedom and dignity of man in the Western tradition brilliantly in his book, The Everlasting Man. I enjoy Chesterton's prose so much that I hope you will allow me to indulge in it:
There will be no end to weary debates about liberalizing theology, until people face the fact that the only liberal part of it is the dogmatic part. If dogma is incredible, it is because it is incredibly liberal. If it is irrational, it can only be in giving us more assurance of freedom than is is justified by reason. The obvious example is that essential freedom which we call free will. It is absurd to say that a man shows his liberality in denying his liberty. But it is tenable that he has to affirm a transcendental doctrine in order to affirm his liberty. There is a sense in which we may reasonably say that if a man has a primary power of choice, he has in that fact a supernatural power of creation, as if he could raise the dead or give birth to the unbegotten. Possibly in that case a man must be miracle; and certainly in that case he must be a miracle in order to be a man; and most certainly in order to be free man. But it is absurd to forbid him to be free man and do it in the name of a more free religion. ... Anybody who believes in God must believe in the absolute supremacy of God. But in so far as that supremacy does allow any of any degrees that can be called liberal or illiberal, it is self evident that the illiberal power is the deity of the rationalists and the liberal power is the deity of the dogmatists. Exactly in proportion as you turn monotheism into monism you turn it into despotism. It is precisely the unknown God of the scientist, with his impenetrable purpose and unalterable law, that reminds us of a Prussian autocrat making rigid plans in a remote tent and moving mankind like machinery. It is precisely the God of miracles and of answered prayers who reminds us of a liberal and popular prince, listening to parliaments and considering the cases of the whole people... What the denouncer of dogma means is not that dogma is bad; but rather that it is too good to be true... Dogma gives man too much freedom when he falls... That is what the intelligent skeptics ought to say... We say, not lightly but very literally, that the truth has made us free. They say that it makes us so free that it cannot be the truth... I decline to show any respect for those who... rivet the chains and refuse the freedom... [who] tell us that our emancipation is a dream and our dungeon a necessity; and then calmly turn around and tell us they have a freer thought and a more liberal theology.

Fox blocker

Introducing The Fox Blocker! I think this thing has to be a joke. How does it know which channel Fox News is on in each area? In any case, I'm posting this for Timmy the G, who really wants one of these. I want one that'll do the same thing for the BBC and the CBC. However, since I'm cheap, and a conservative (coincidence?), I'll think I'll just change the channel. When I decide to change other people's minds I'll rely on my own freedom of speech.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Gentle Knowledge

Faith as an Inside Job A post by Dallas Willard has kicked off a most interesting project and if you are so inclined, you can contribute. The project? Jesus the Logician. Writes Willard:
One is not logical by chance, any more than one just happens to be moral. And, indeed, logical consistency is a significant factor in moral character. That is part of the reason why in an age that attacks morality, as ours does, the logical will also be demoted or set aside--as it now is.

Not only does Jesus not concentrate on logical theory, but he also does not spell out all the details of the logical structures he employs on particular occasions. His use of logic is always enthymemic, as is common to ordinary life and conversation. His points are, with respect to logical explicitness, understated and underdeveloped. The significance of the enthymeme is that it enlists the mind of the hearer or hearers from the inside, in a way that full and explicit statement of argument cannot do. Its rhetorical force is, accordingly, quite different from that of fully explicated argumentation, which tends to distance the hearer from the force of logic by locating it outside of his own mind.

Jesus' aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers. This understanding only comes from the inside, from the understandings one already has. It seems to "well up from within" one. Thus he does not follow the logical method one often sees in Plato's dialogues, or the method that characterizes most teaching and writing today. That is, he does not try to make everything so explicit that the conclusion is forced down the throat of the hearer. Rather, he presents matters in such a way that those who wish to know can find their way to, can come to, the appropriate conclusion as something they have discovered--whether or not it is something they particularly care for.
This is very good insight. We seem to have lost a good many people because they associate all religion with the illogical and the emotional. Williard is critical of this approach, from those outside of faith, as well as those inside it:
we commonly depend upon the emotional pull of stories and images to 'move' people. We fail to understand that, in the very nature of the human mind, emotion does not reliably generate belief or faith, if it generates it at all. Not even 'seeing' does, unless you know what you are seeing. It is understanding, insight, that generates belief.
The Evangelical Outpost proposes harnessing the blogosphere in an effort to quickly generate work on the subject. A list of work so far is available here. The project is still new and there appears to be plenty of room for contributions.