Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Losing the war

*** Note that this post has been rewritten and shortened after I realized that I didn't have the Tribunal's ruling down correctly. I came across a better story in the paper at work today and the link I used last night seems to have had new details added to it that made the changes necessary. Oh Canada...
"Actually, my clients had no idea who the Knights of Columbus were. They had never heard of them and were completely shocked that this erstwhile bingo hall was turning them down," she said. The hall where the couple booked their reception had a "bingo" sign outside. Though findlay and her clients are "jubilant" that they won the ruling, the legal challenge may not be over. "For gay and lesbian people, we are going to need to study this judgment in detail. While my clients won their case, it currently appears that if the Knights of Columbus had found them another hall, the tribunal would have agreed that they could refuse the rental to my clients," findlay said. "So one way of characterizing it is that we won the battle but we lost the war."
This ruling by the BC Human Rights Tribunal says that that Knights of Columbus (KoC) had a legal obligation to find a lesbian couple another hall for their reception. They had this obligation because the couple - if the story of the mistaken rental isn't a complete fabrication - was too lazy and / or stupid to do any research into who they were dealing with. It seems neither the couple nor the Tribunal has heard of Google. By this logic, the next time a police officer pulls you over and asks you if you know what the speed limit is, an answer of "no" will get you off the hook and a cheque for $1000 to compensate for police harassment. Brilliant. When has ignorance been acceptable as grounds for a lawsuit? Decisions like this run the risk of having facilities like the Knights' hall closed to the public, thereby harming the public good by diminishing the facilities available to it. The details of this story are no longer fresh in my mind but I recall that the Knights did recognize that they had a good samaritan sort of moral duty to the couple and they responded to it by refunding the downpayment and more if my memory is any good. The couple took the money and sued for their "rights" anyway. I say "rights" with quotes because the Knights have rights too, rights to religious freedom that are plainly found in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under "Fundamental Rights." The Tribunal thankfully did uphold the Knights' right to refrain from being accessory to something they object to on religious grounds. Rather than be thankful they were awarded $1,000 for being ignorant, the couple has taken the view that the ruling says it is "Ok for the Knights to discriminate as long as they do it politely." The financial award is a headscratcher but the decision to let the Knights decide who can use their hall is undeniably correct. It takes some chutzpah to get a ruling like this and still complain that you're being victimized. But then the lesbian couple's lawyer thinks that capital letters are oppressive. What they want, it seems, is the ability to use the force of the law to gain access to private property and if you think by that I simply mean a Hall available for public rental, think again. Nor do I mean the ability to use the force of the law to gain access to private worship spaces. No, I mean that they hope to force entry into your very mind itself, and failing that (as they can only fail given the hubris of the idea), force you into the smallest possible physical space and humiliate you. See the end of this National Post editorial.

Catholic Carnival

The latest Catholic Carnival is being hosted at Crusader of Justice. He's done a nice job of it, so drop on in and have a look.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Neat tech stuff

I've been finding a lot of new things to try on the computer of late. You might find some of these interesting too.
  • Gollum. A Wikkipedia reader. It's supposed to make the site better organized and easier to read. You still use your brower, but accress the Wikki through the Gollum page.
  • VLC Media Player. An interesting open source media player. It can even play Quicktime Video, something a lot of others can't do.
  • Brushed. This is a very cool iTunes inspired skin for Firefox. A cut above, this one is.
  • Open Office 2.0. An open source Office software suite. Save a bundle!

Dibert on Evolution

Scott Adams, creator of the uber funny Dibert cartoon, has been posting about the subject of evolution and inteligent design. He doesn't like ID any more than I do, and he also thinks evolution supporters act really oddly when questioned. From the first post:
I've been doing lots of reading on the subject, trying to gather comic fodder. I fully expected to validate my preconceived notion that the Darwinists had a mountain of credible evidence and the Intelligent Design folks were creationist kooks disguising themselves as scientists. That's the way the media paints it. I had no reason to believe otherwise. The truth is a lot more interesting.
Here are links to his entries so far.
Evolution and Intelligent Design, part One Evolution and Intelligent Design, part Two Evolution and Intelligent Design, part Three
Also not to be missed: Why Scott Adams is Stupid and Who's Credible? I wish I was that funny.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thin places

As the release of the first Narnia nears, material on Lewis is sprouting up all over. This article on Lewis at the Evangelical site Christianity Today is pretty fair and has a lot of information about Lewis' biography and publishing history that makes for interesting reading. Ex.:
By the late 1980s, Lewis seemed to be popping up everywhere, even in Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. Phyllis Tickle, an author and former religion editor for Publishers Weekly, recalls that in the early 1990s, Lewis's books began to appear on the religion bestseller lists of secular bookstores. This trend continued after the Hollywood version of Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, was released in 1994. According to Gary Ink, librarian at Publishers Weekly, Mere Christianity has been on the religion bestseller list ever since. According to Harper Collins, Lewis's publisher, sales of his books have increased 125 percent since 2001. Part of Lewis' current appeal, says Tickle, is a postmodern interest in "thin places"- places where the physical world and the spiritual world meet - and for myth that makes sense of life in a way that rational thinking can't. For their dose of myth, postmoderns turn to The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and, of course, Narnia. "Fantasy allows you to explain and grasp and integrate into your life things that are not logical," she says. "Which is not to say that we're fantasizing about our lives. It is to say that we can tell each other truth in story."
As a Catholic, I find the Evangelical fascination with Lewis ripe with promise, since Lewis held in many ways to a fullness of traditional Christian faith. He was sacramental; he believed in the Eucharist and in Baptism, for example. He used the word Mass, with a capital M. He was in many ways on the Catholic side of Anglo-Catholicism. He was no literalist bumpkin and he may become a terrific conduit for that fullness. I saw one preview on the upcoming Narnia move, for example, where an evengelical was bemoaning the fact that a "supposed" Christian writer was using pagan symbols. Such stupidity drives me mental and I hope Lewis can be an antidote of sorts for it. I also find Lewis frustrating, since he never became a Catholic and was never very clear about what held him back. In C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, which I am almost done with now, Joseph Pearce writes:
The principal difference between Lewis' 'mere Christianity' and [G.K.] Chesterton's 'orthodoxy' is a difference of principle. Chesterton placed at the center of his quest for the essence of Christianity, the Apostles' Creed; Lewis placed at the center of his quest, the Book of Common Prayer. To quote once again from from the preface to Mere Christianity, 'All this is said simply in order to make clear what kind of book I was trying to write; not in the least to conceal or evade responsibility for my own beliefs. About those, as I said before, there is no secret.... "They are written in the Common-Prayer Book." ' Chesterton began with the Apostles' creed and discovered the Church of the Apostles; Lewis began with the Book of Common Prayer and was caught between the Church of the Apostles and the Compromise of Cramner. Ultimately, however, in spite of the limitations that 'mere Christianity' had placed upon him, Lewis groped progressively towards 'more Christianity,' accepting as integral to the faith doctrines that would have made Cramner cringe. Lewis might have failed to escape completely from the Puritania of his prejudices, but he would evolve into a very Catholic sort of Protestant or, perhaps, a very Protestant sort of Catholic.
Lewis' Catholicity can be seen in The Great Divorce, which is greatly inspired by Dante. The book explores the idea of purgatory and what that might be and what it might mean, a subject that is not Anglican. Due in no small part to its rich heritage, The Great Divorce is rich in literary techniques, fantasy and allegory and the like. Lewis just might represent a 'thin place' where the current hunger for fantasy stories can meet up with missing expository techniques that are at the root of the 'pagan symbol' whine I mentioned earlier. Such a meeting is likely, IMHO, to reveal the intellectual and historical poverty of the 'once a pagan symbol always a pagan symbol' mentality. A faith that can turn a symbol like the Cross into a symbol of victory and hope can surely turn a satyr on its head and use it to forward its own ends! Furthermore, in a media soaked age like ours, the ability to absorb and turn symbols to your own advantage is a hugely valuable skill, one that Christians simply cannot afford to walk away from.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

iTunes

I decided earlier this week to join the 21st century, music wise, and signed up with iTunes. I quickly grabbed a couple of singles - including Corb Lund's hilarious "The Truck got Stuck". Today I grabbed my first full album, Steve Earle, The Millenium Collection. I'm not a complete redneck music wise (although I confess to loving country - rockabilly my whole life) as I also have a single from Yo Yo Ma. It's from his Appalachian Journey, but it's absolutely beautiful. Nothing redneck about it at all... terrific example of the kind of fusion that lots of musicians are doing, often with less success than this. I'm sure my hyms and classical section will swell soon enough, with Advent and Christmas on the way. Are there any downsides to Apple's music service? Is there a better service out there and if so, why and how is it better? Speaking of Advent, which starts tomorrow, there are people around me who have had their Christmas lights and a fully decorated tree up since November the 18th. Any comments I could make on this would be less than kind.

The star of redemption

Over in the Asia Times, Spengler provides a fascinating look at the nature of religion in a review of The Star of Redemption, a book by a german writer named Franz Rosenzweig, now in available in an English translation.
We live not merely in an age of faith, but in an age of religious wars. Today's intellectual elite feels something like the mad Englishman in a lunatic asylum whom Karl Marx sketched in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. He imagines that his warders are barbarian mercenaries who speak in a welter of unintelligible tongues, and mutters to himself, "And all this is happening to me - a freeborn Englishman!" There is no idea in The Star of Redemption that one cannot find close to hand in the mainstream of Christian and Jewish teaching. Rosenzweig's act of genius was to show that Christianity and Judaism are not ideas, not mere religions (his dismissive characterization of Islam), but rather lives. ... Faith cannot be proven or defended, but only lived, Rosenzweig taught. It is not a system of beliefs but an existential choice, not a proof but an affirmation. ... In 1914, Europe believed not in God, but in nation and Kultur. By 1918 these gods were toppled, and Europe began to worship the false gods of historical materialism and national socialism. Kant had already destroyed the philosophical proofs of God's existence in 1781, prompting Heinrich Heine's quip that Robespierre merely decapitated a king, whereas a German professor sent the Almighty to the scaffold. Biologists reduced to myth the Biblical story of creation. The Higher Criticism proved multiple authorship of the Hebrew scriptures. Modern philosophy and science presented themselves as a rational alternative to the sham of religion. Except for the backward or the recalcitrant, traditional faith became impossible. Along with the great Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, Rosenzweig opened a path for a modern faith, a faith strengthened by skepticism as if by inoculation. He turned the tables on the philosophers, the undertakers of faith, arguing that philosophy itself was the sham, the equivalent of a small child stuffing his fingers in his ears and shouting "I can't hear you!" to ward off the terror of death. Science did not threaten the faith of the West, Rosenzweig explained, but rather the resurgent "inner pagan" inside every Christian. Christians are torn between their belief in the Kingdom of Heaven and their belief in their own blood. It is the Jew, he argued, who converts the inner pagan inside the Christian. Only a "community of blood" (Blutgemeinschaft) provides man with the assurance of immortality, Rosenzweig argued. God's covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham provides such surety to the Jews, and precisely for this reason the Jews provide Christians with proof of God's promise of a New Covenant. By virtue of Christ's blood, Christians become the next best thing to a community of blood, an ekklesia, those who are called out from among the nations, and through immersion in water, undergo a new birth to become descendants of Abraham in the spirit. Christianity embraced the gentiles newly conscious of their own mortality, of the inevitable end of their bloodline
We simply do not think in terms of kin community very easily anymore, except perhaps as a negative. We drink the milk of autonomous individuality from an early age and too often even to mention kin groups is to invite scorn from the hoi polloi. I'm perfectly aware that the interactions of such communities can be problematic but perhaps we've learned that lesson rather too well and are poorer for it. Rozenweig was arguing that a healthy, long lived faith community can foster a healthy skepticism towards scientism, revealing it as having no more poweful a grasp on reality than this succesful, long lasting community. It basically flaunts its "evolutionary" fitness when questioned, rather than trying to respond in the language of the newcomer.

Unsatisfactory

The Maverick Philosopher is beginning a series of posts asking "what is religion?" He begins by suggesting that an important preccursor to religious sentiment is the feeling that something is not right in the world.
By radically defective and fundamentally unsatisfactory, I mean that the dis-ease of our condition goes right to the root of it, and so cannot be dealt with by any half-way measures. In particular, no one who is religious could possibly believe that the fundamental malaise of our condition could be alleviated by any sort of human social action no matter how concerted or revolutionary. We need help, and if any truly ameliorative help is to come it must come from elsewhere, from beyond the human-all-too-human. A religious person can and must take action now and again to right wrongs and make piecemeal improvements in the conditions of his own life and those of others; but no religious person could be an activist if an activist is one who believes that humanity has the resources within itself to bring about any such fundamental and lasting improvement in the human condition as the elimination of war. For this reason, Communism is not a religion, though it is in many ways like a religion and functions in many as a substitute for religion. In characterizing our predicament as defective and unsatisfactory, I mean to allude in the first instance to moral and natural evil, but without denying that there is much moral and natural goodness in the world. This life is radically defective (defective from the root up, and not merely in the branches), but not wholly defective. But beyond this there is the ontological deficiency of our condition which will loom large in the ensuing pages. To say that the natural and social world of our ordinary waking experience is ontologically deficient is to say that its very metaphysical structure is fundamentally unsatisfactory. As a material world of time and change, it is devoid of ultimate reality. As Plato puts it, "nothing which is subject to change...has any truth." (Phaedo St. 83a)
I'm looking forward to the rest of these. I think think there is embedded in Bill's premise of fundamental deficiency a criterion against which we judge. We'll see where he goes with this idea.

Friday, November 25, 2005

I confess

There is a confession meme going around some of the blogs I read. This is not part of it, but I do confess to liking this video clip more than I ought.

Rebel yell

The rebel myth:
The myth asks us to admire the "authentic life". Notice what authentic life is not: it isn't moral life, it isn't a life of self-denial out of love, it isn't even an examined life. Far from ever having to examine his life, the rebel always seems to have everything worked out from the the beginning, as though he were Christ questioning the teachers in the Temple. The rebel never has to experience the essentially moral drama of figuring out that "the greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves", for the rebel -as the story goes- only experiences grief at the hands of others, extrinsically, because he is oppressed and misunderstood. Because the rebel never experiences anything in his soul that he sees the need to correct or master (except perhaps, his own self- repression), the rebel is unable to have any moral development. In truth, the moral life begins when we accept that there are things in us that need to be perfected with outside help (family structure, churches, prayer) but the rebel sees his life as essentially perfect and ready to perfect the world around him.
Taken from Vomit the Lukewarm. Rebels are either the biggest poseurs of them all, or they're oversized children, IMHO.

Trends in vocations discernment

Amy Wellborn responds to the leaked Vatican document on how the Catholic Church should deal with candidates for the priesthood dealing with same sex attractions:
Here's the bottom line for me, and why I wrote, weeks ago, that the "who you are" question in regard to vocation discernment and this issue is secondary to "what you believe and what you will vigorously and enthusiastically teach." ... when it comes to guidelines, as reasonable as it might seem to do the "no homosexuals in the seminary thing," it doesn't get at the problem. The problem is not, in simple terms, the homosexual priest. The problem is priests who don't believe what the Catholic Church teaches on sexuality, who don't preach it, who don't witness to it in the confessional, and who don't live it in their private lives. Do you see the difference?
I certainly do. By dealing with it in the manner Amy espouses, the Vatican will gain the ability to deal with those who do not support it in it's teachings - and not just on sexual issues, but on any issue in which is deemed to be closed. And no, that's not all of them by any stretch of the imagination. It also avoids singling out one group of sinners for a different standard of treatment. Upper Canada Catholic weighs in as well.

"A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard"

This article argues that universities are obsolete.
Herman Melville said that "a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard." Melville didn't need college to write "Moby Dick." He needed to read and spend time in the world. Before sailing out on a whaler in 1841, he had already worked on his uncle's farm and as a cabin boy on a ship to England. Peter Drucker urged high-school graduates to do likewise: Work for at least five years. If they went on to college, it would be as grown-ups. You wonder whether colleges, stripped of their education function, wouldn't find other lives as spas, professional-sports franchises or perhaps lightly supervised halfway houses for post-adolescents. The infrastructure is already in place.
Putting aside the intellectual class' obsession with things passing and thus bringing the great moment of cosmic progression to a thundering conclusion (yawn), I do think there's something to this. The potential of the podcast has not yet been fully tapped. Imagine what frontier colleges could have done with them! I would love to be able to get lectures from iTunes on the subjects I'm curious about and I'm not about to cough up fat tuition cheques either. This is better:
the professors could let non-students download their lectures and charge them royalties, just like the Black Eyed Peas. Ordinary folks already buy courses on tape or CD. For example, The Teaching Company is now selling a virtual major in American history -- 84 lectures on 42 audiotapes -- at the bargain price of $109.95. It covers everything from "before Columbus" to Bill Clinton, and the lecturers are top-drawer. Some of them teach at Columbia University, where a single history course runs you $3,207.
Interesting times... I imagine there are a goodly number of grown ups working in grown up situations who would like to do this kind of thing. Oh, and Drucker's advice is fantabulous. I went to university right out of high school and didn't have a clue what I was doing. All I knew was that virtually all of my high school teachers had told me - both one to one and to whole classes of us - that we were pretty much doomed if we did not go to university. We'd be working as quick order cooks or worse our whole lives. We were never given Drucker's advice, ever. Kids, your teachers do not always know best. Some things really do have to be learned first hand. At the very least they need to be heard from those you know and trust, or seen up close so that you can see the sweat, blood and tears.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Masterblogs

I just received a pleasant little e-mail advising me that NWW has been deemed Master Blogs worthy. I applied for this a while back and truth be told when there was no response I assumed I'd been passed over. I'm the new entry under "Society / Religion." I'm familiar with some of the other bloggers in this category and am pleased to be in their company. Jay at Living Catholicism is one of the Catholic Carnival organizers, for example. Amy Wellborn of Open Book fame is well known among Catholic bloggers, and I've also bumped into the Summa Mamas once or twice. What a nice surprise!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Turn the dial

It's been a busy week (work is nuts right now) and the weekend was enjoyable but no less tiring. I think, dear reader, that I am going to be taking one of my blogging breaks this week. I have some holidays from work just before Christmas and if I'm not around by next week I'll be around then for sure. (I'll be back next week, if I know myself.) So just for this week, it's okay to turn that dial.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What action hero are you?

You scored as Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones is an archaeologist/adventurer with an unquenchable love for danger and excitement. He travels the globe in search of historical relics. He loves travel, excitement, and a good archaeological discovery. He hates Nazis and snakes, perhaps to the same degree. He always brings along his trusty whip and fedora. He's tough, cool, and dedicated. He relies on both brains and brawn to get him out of trouble and into it.

Indiana Jones

67%

Neo, the "One"

54%

Maximus

54%

Captain Jack Sparrow

50%

El Zorro

50%

Lara Croft

46%

William Wallace

46%

The Amazing Spider-Man

46%

James Bond, Agent 007

46%

The Terminator

42%

Batman, the Dark Knight

33%

Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with QuizFarm.com

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Iconography and film

The question of art - and of film especially - keeps popping up in my Internet wanderings. I found this article about the question of pagan vs. Christian filmmaking at Libertas. This surprised me, probably because I hadn't considered it before:
There is one exception to my argument that non-Christians make the best Christian films. A particular group of Christians has excelled in its craft during the past century of cinema. This fraternity includes Frank Capra, Francis Ford Coppola, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars Von Trier, and Krzysztof Kieslowski. All operate (or operated) in the mainstream rather than sequestering themselves in a subculture, and all came from a Roman Catholic background. Three tenets of Catholicism informed their craft and equipped them to succeed. First, an intuitive understanding of iconography gave them a strong foundation for crafting visual images. Next, they seemed to grasp the incarnational function of art, which allowed them to give tangible form to intangible concepts. Finally, their understanding of the sacramental nature of life helped them relate divine patterns through everyday minutiae. For these reasons, even lapsed Catholic filmmakers, such as Brian De Palma, or Federico Fellini, tend to be better equipped to focus on religious themes than practicing evangelicals. This isn't to say that non-Catholic filmmakers are at a complete disadvantage when creating cinema. But the Protestant evangelical emphasis on the primacy of "word" has not allowed us to fully realize our ability to translate the image of God (imago Dei) into moving pictures.
I'm interested in hearing comments on this subject if anyone has them. Note that I don't want to give the impression that I'm dumping all over other sorts of Christians, or engaging in Catholic triumphalism, btw. There is a dynamism to found in some Protestant circles that is impressive but I'm not aware of it in the arts. Libertas also sums up my worries about the Wachowski's upcoming film, V for Vendetta. I read - and loved - the comics as a teenager. Older and (somewhat) wiser now, my perspective has changed dramatically - as has the world we live in. It's not the 1980's anymore. Those "V" movie posters are really, really cool though.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Lewis, Tolkein and the MSM

It is inevitable that with CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe coming to theatres very shortly that we will see an accompanying barrage of commentary on it. Some of this will come from the Christian community, as it prepares to use the film as a teaching resource. There is nothing wrong with this so long as there is no lying or distortion involved. What will be less noticed but no less evident is that there are others who will try to milk the movie's publicity and share in the spotlight as well. By this I mean certain academics and talking heads who will find the movie threatening; who will see in it more meat being thrown to the red state barbarians. There is nothing wrong with them speaking to the film, of course. But they too must be held to standards of scholarship and honesty. The problem is that fewer people will even look for bias in this sort of coverage. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik on C.S. Lewis' position in the culture today. Gopnik's review is full of little snides that let us know that he is no Lewis fan-boy and to that I say, fine. In his article he rightly observes that if you "praise a good writer too single-mindedly for too obviously ideological reasons for too long, pretty soon you have him all to yourself." Gopnik falls prey to the corollary that if you do nothing but damn someone you will be ignored for the bigoted partisan that you are imitating splendidly. Don't be fooled by Gopnik's observations that Lewis was a "fine mind" and the like. Denying that is too obvious to be credible. Gopnik opts for the back door, endlessly telling us that Lewis was "weird." A "weird man," a "weird Christian." The problem is that these are silly frat boy charges and no matter how he dresses them up in well written prose in the end they simply are what they are. When Gopnik tries to provide us with examples intended to back up his antipathy all he really does is demonstrate that Christianity is much bigger than he is and that he, Gopnik, is ignorant of that fact. Take, for example, Gopnik's observation that
Aslan the lion, the Christ symbol... has exasperated generations of freethinking parents and delighted generations of worried Anglicans... [He] is, after all, a very weird symbol for that famous carpenter's son - not just an un-Christian but in many ways an anti-Christian figure.
What can this weird statement mean if if does not mean Gopnik's understanding of the Trinity is really weak? Consider: Alsan is large, strong lion who lays down his life for others. How is this "anti-Christian"? Gopnik makes the fatal error of thinking that laying down for others is weak but this paradox is at the very heart of Christianity. We become truly great and truly God like by living (and dying) for others. The Father and the Son, the Lion and the Lamb, are, after all, simply different aspects of One thing. A lamb is a perfectly fine symbol for God but in the context of Narnia it simply would not work. "A central point of the Gospel story," says Gopnik, "is that Jesus is not the lion of the faith but the lamb of God." Yes, yes, but it is not the Gospel we are talking about. There is nothing to say that Lewis can't, as an artist, choose a symbol that focuses on Jesus' unity with the Father. He was writing for children, after all. Perhaps Gopnik thinks the lion is too much a figure of English nationalism? That Lewis chose the lion in an effort to suggest that God is an Englishman? Do I really need to point out to Mr. Gopnik that Lewis was Irish? That he grew up in Belfast? Gopnik makes another blunder - there's simply no other word for it - when he compares Lewis' famous work with that of his contemporary, J.R.R. Tolkien:
Tolkien hated the Narnia books, despite Lewis's avid sponsorship of Tolkien's own mythology, because he hated to see an imagination constrained by the allegorical impulse. Though Tolkien was certainly a devout Catholic, there is no way in which "The Lord of the Rings" is a Christian book, much less a Catholic allegory. The Blessed Land across the sea is a retreat for the already immortal, not, except for Frodo, a reward for the afflicted; dead is dead. The pathos of Aragorn and Arwen's marriage is that, after Aragorn's death, they will never meet again, in Valinor or elsewhere. It is the modernity of the existential arrangement, in tension with the archaicism of the material culture, that makes Tolkien's myth haunting. In the final Narnia book, "The Last Battle," the effort to key the fantasy to the Biblical themes of the Apocalypse is genuinely creepy, with an Aslan Antichrist. The best of the books are the ones, like "The Horse and His Boy," where the allegory is at a minimum and the images just flow.
This is utterly wrong headed. What are we to make of Tolkien's statement that The Lord of the Rings is a "fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision. (Joseph Pearce, Tolkien: Man and Myth, p. 100)? What of the elvish bread and the Eucharist? Of Frodo's carrying the ring and the carrying of the cross? Of Gandalf's resurrection as Gandalf the White? I've written on the Catholicity of LOTR before, here and here. In the example that Gopnik cites, his reading of the text is very poor and would be chastised by any competent Graduate student teaching an English 101 class. Gopnik plainly confuses the thoughts of the characters in the book - Arwen, Aragorn primarily - with those of Tolkien! In doing so he fatally misunderstands Tolkien's work. The world of Tolkien's imagination is a world in which God has not yet made himself known. It is a world in which not only has Christ not yet been, it is a world in which Moses and Abraham have not yet been. The characters ingorance of the providence that guides them at every step is a very large part of the poignancy of the story. When you know this, the despair that many characters exhibit is all the more tragic. Arwen and Aragorn's story is absolutely not one of existential angst. It is one of Christian self sacrifice. Then there's this:
Lewis didn't embrace Christianity because he had eaten too much cake; he embraced it because he thought that it would keep the cake coming...
Erm, it IS called the GOOD NEWS for a reason, isn't it? And so it goes. Gopnik displays ignorance of his subject and petty spite throughout, ultimately falling prey to his own observation that when
the enthusiasts are so busy chortling and snickering as their man throws another right hook... they don't notice that the [purported antagonist] isn't actually down on the canvas; he and his friends have long since left the building.
Indeed. Be on the lookout for more of this kind of garbage in the coming months.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Why do pagans make the best Christian films?

Faith should be sublime The more I hear frm Barb Nicolosi, the more I like. This is from a recent interview the film maven gave to Godspy:
Why DO "heathens" or "pagans" seem to make the best Christian films? First of all, by pagan, I mean people who worship other gods, many gods, and that's what most people in Hollywood are. That is, they worship money, prestige, power, botox, Spielberg, you name it. Why is it that non-believers have actually made the best Christian films in the last few years? Because they value beauty and excellence. That's why even when they pick up a story accidentally that has some good value at its heart, they end up making a better project than we do when we start with Christian message stuff, because we don't value the craft as the gateway to beauty. We are all about using a movie to deliver a message. The best movies in the last few decades have been made by pagans who are serving the project as a beautiful thing in itself. Some examples are Amadeus, In America, Ghandi, Chariots of Fire, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, In the Bedroom, Spiderman 2, A Beautiful Mind, Hotel Rwanda. That's ironic, isn't it, when you consider much beauty in art, music, and architecture Christianity has inspired over two thousand years? Yeah. Just imagine some horrible, untalented Renaissance artist going around Rome painting angels all over the place. They would've considered it just bad graffiti. Now-a-days, we would let the guy paint on our cathedrals and drone a communal Gather Us In to celebrate the desecration! When I visited the new Cathedral here in Los Angeles, I was struck by the lack of aesthetic quality evident in the sculpture of the Blessed Virgin that looms over the entrance. The artist apparently wanted it to reflect "all people" so it has the racial characteristics of several races, plus a man's arms on a woman's body. I pointed out to the tour guide who explained all this, "Yes, but it is really very ugly." She sniffed at me in disdain, "We aren't about that kind of thing in the Church any more." Oh really. Somebody, quick call the Vatican to lock up the Pieta. We have lost the value and understanding of aesthetics in the Church.... I went to the five o'clock guitar Mass at my parish this week. The music was so abominably bad that I kept thinking I was watching a Saturday Night Live spoof of church people. But no! We are doing it to ourselves. I sat there cringing while they sang unsingable song after unsingable song... This is what Catholic liturgy in terms of beauty has come to. I wish it was the exception and not the rule in Catholic parishes, but my experience is that in most places I go, the arts are not the Church's priority at all. We are missing out on such a huge way of engaging people and helping them to feel the realities they're experiencing. It's so stupid. If Hollywood uses music in movies, it's because it works. ... We have to accept that the heart of drama is found in sin: betrayal, jealousy, greed, anger, fear, pride—that's entertainment!—and the reason for the redemption, by the way. Drama finds its suspense in stories of human beings trying and failing because of their inner demons and, then, finally succeeding by winning out over those demons. You can't take the demons out without creating stories that are sickly sentimental and absolutely useless to an audience searching for courage and inspiration on the screen. The great masters like Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Graham Greene, managed to talk about very real human darkness without wallowing in it.
There is so much good sense here. Go on, give it a read. It's quite encouraging.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Jokers to the left of me, clowns to the right

There are two good essays by J. Budziszewski at Orthodoxy Today. The subject of the first is criticism of Liberalism, and the subject of the second is... Conservatism. With the news full of rumours that Canada's minority government could fall sometime soon, it might be a good time to give these a look. From the Critique of Liberalism:
The first moral error of political liberalism is propitiationism. According to this notion I should do unto others as they want; according to Christianity I should do unto others as they need. Numerous mental habits contribute to the propitiationist frame of mind. Most of my college students, for instance, think "need" and "want" are just synonyms... Christians can slip into propitiationism by misunderstanding the Golden Rule. This happens when we read Do unto others as you would have them do unto you as though it implied Do unto others as they would have you do unto them-"I'd want others to honor my demands, so I should honor theirs." The mistake lies in overlooking the fact that the "you" to whom the precept is addressed is a free subject of the kingdom of heaven, not a stranger. We are therefore speaking of what in Christ we would have others do unto us-to minister to our godly needs, not to our foolish or sinful wants. Unto others we should minister in the same way. It follows that keeping the Golden Rule may even mean saying "No" or suggesting a better way.
And from the Critique of Conservatism:
The second moral error of political conservatism is instrumentalism. According to this notion faith should be used for the ends of the state; according to Christianity believers should certainly be good citizens, but faith is not a tool... Religious conservatives who pine for the days when jurists called America "a Christian country" and recognized Christianity as "the law of the land" are deeply in error if they think such statements expressed belief; what they expressed was instrumentalism. In those days the religion that came to hand was Christianity (or at least its counterfeit in civil religion), and the speakers were interested primarily in how it could be used... Viewed from this perspective, the contrast between the jurisprudence of yesterday and today is not nearly as sharp as religious conservatives make it out to be.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Survival of the Choicest

What does ID have to do with Roe v. Wade? Here. Related issues can be found in this look at sociobiologist EO Wilson:
[Wilson] offers scientific humanism as the alternative to the two great fallacies: God-centered religion and atheistic communism. The interest, of course, is in the latter, because one might have thought that Marxism-Leninism's scientific materialism and Wilson's scientific materialism would be regarded as more alike than different. But Wilson chooses to distinguish them solely by the fact of Marxism-Leninism's acceptance of a tabula rasa view of human nature, unlike the sociobiological view that we have a fully wired human nature, though one "self-assembled" through millions of years of natural selection. But this differentiation, while it serves to separate Wilson from some admittedly nasty company, does not really go to the heart of what is most lacking in any materialist view of nature. The thing that the materialist cannot explain is where and how, in his vision of things, and absent the banished traditions of religion, we can find plausible ground for a belief in the dignity of the human person, and ground it in a sturdy enough way to resist the growing instrumentalization of life, and the frighteningly posthuman prospects that science now has brought within our reach. ... it takes for granted the possibility of liberal institutions that are founded upon respect for the dignity of the individual, a respect that in turn has never existed apart from the cultural presence of the religious traditions he now feels prepared to discard because their price has become "too high." ... Science, by its very nature, does not tell us a thing about how to use rightly the powers it places in our hands. Indeed, the question as to whether science can provide us with such moral guidance, in and of itself, is not really an unanswered one.

To which raceof Middle earth do you belong?

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To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
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Saturday, November 12, 2005

God's sperm

Talk about bringing a knife to gunfight! Get a load of this article that Althouse has linked to:
Darwin's evolution still stands out as the thorniest point of contention between science and religion, but other more recent scientific advances also raise new questions for believers. How, for example, does the 20th century biological revolution influence the Christian concept of virgin birth? Where did Jesus get his DNA? His Y chromosome? A number of scientifically minded Christians have come forward during the Dover "intelligent design" trial to say they accept that ordinary humans arose through purely natural processes, no intelligent design needed. But it's another thing to accept that the Lord and Savior was conceived through an act of sex.
This lede says more about modern unreflective positivism than it does about the fullness of the Christian faith. Here we have supposedly smart, educated people asking aloud where Jesus got his Y chromosome from. The mind boggles. This is manifestly not a new question folks, and it has nothing to do with new advances in the sciences. It's ancient question and one that has been well turned over. Scientist Wesley Wildman says:
''There's a big split over the Y chromosome issue,'' says [the] Boston University theology professor. One thing Catholics and Protestants seem to agree on is that Jesus was fully human and male, so he **must have** carried the usual male quotient of DNA. It's not the Y chromosome he needed per se but a gene called SRY normally carried on the Y. Occasionally this male-making gene gets moved off the Y, giving rise to an infertile XY woman. In a few cases men are found to have two X chromosomes, but such XX males turn out to have this critical fragment of the Y stuck on one of the other 22 chromosomes. That fragment of the Y has to come from a father.
The emphasis here is mine, in an effort to point out two large and unwarranted assumptions. One is that our subject is biology and not ontology, and this first error gives us a second. To say that Catholics think that Jesus is "fully human and fully male" is so incomplete it might as well be wrong. Jesus is fully man and fully God and that is a distinction with a difference. We are then given theologian and minister Ronald Cole-Turner, who says:
Standard Christian thought attributes the virgin birth to God's intervention in the natural order, not a biological anomaly. ''It's not God's sperm . . . but **God created something like a sperm and caused it to fertilize Mary's egg,''** he says.
Really? You don't think that maybe this theory is just a hash of weak theology trying to accommodate the unspoken positivist assumptions the Salt Lake Tribune led off with? Why do I say that? Well, there are theological repurcussions from saying that Jesus' humanity came from Mary and not God. I'm no theologian but it seems to me that a story like that increases Mary's importance. If it's true, Jesus shares half of Mary's DNA. This guy's a Protestant minister who thinks Catholics make too much of Mary yet by his account it looks like we don't give her nearly enough credit! The other half of Jesus' DNA is God's creation which means... Well, doesn't it suggest that the Trinity was a duet until God's sperm met up with Mary's egg? I don't know what else it means and I only care in a bemused kind of way. This whole rickety structure arises because of a literal reading of the bible is trying to accommodate a positivist outlook and in all likelihood is doing it unawares. Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity has a lot to say on this subject:
The conception of Jesus is new creation, not begetting by God. God does not become the biological father of Jesus, and neither the New Testament nor the theology of the Church has fundamentally ever seen in this narrative or in the event recounted in it the ground for the real divinity of Jesus, his "Divine Sonship." For this does not mean that Jesus is half God and half man; it has always been a basic tenet of Christianity that Jesus is completely God and completely man. His Godhead does not imply a subtraction of his humanity; this was the path followed by Arius and Apollinarius, the great heretics of the ancient Church. In opposition to them the complete intactness of Jesus' humanity was defended with all possible emphasis, and the merging of the biblical account into the heathen myth of the god begotten demi-god was thus frustrated. According to the Church, the Divine Sonship of Jesus does not rest on the fact that Jesus had no human father; the doctrine of Jesus' divinity would not be affected if Jesus had been the product of a normal human marriage. For the Divine Sonship of which faith speaks is not a biological but an ontological fact, an event not in time but in God's eternity God is always Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the conception of Jesus means, not that a new God-the-Son comes into being, but that God as Son in the man Jesus draws the creature man to himself, so that he himself "is" man.

I could stop here but this seems like a very good place indeed to put another passage from Ratzinger on the subject of Jesus' nature. So much of ancient Christianity relies on this notion - nature - that it is incomprehensible to those who are either unfamiliar with it or who reject it (like those who hold to positivism).
What is one to say when such a meritorious researcher as E. Schweitzer expresses himself on our question in the following terms: "Since Luke is not interested in the biological question, he does not cross over the frontier to a metaphysical understanding either." Almost everything about this statement is wrong. The most staggering thing about it is the way in which biology and metaphysics are tacitly equated. To all appearance, the metaphysical (ontological) Divine Sonship is misinterpreted as biological descent, and it's meaning is thus turned completely upside down. It is in fact, as we saw, the express rejection of a biological interpretation of Jesus' divine origin. It is a little saddening to have to be the one to point out that the plane of metaphysics is not the plane of biology. The Church's teaching about the Divine Sonship is based, not on the story of the Virgin Birth, but on the Abba-Son dialogue and on the relationship of Word and love that we found revealed in it. Its idea of being does not belong to the biological plane but to the "I AM" of St. John's Gospel, which therein, as we have seen, had already developed the Son idea in all of its radicality, which is far more comprehensive and wide ranging than the biological God-man ideas of myth. We have already considered this at some length; it has been mentioned again only because one gets the distinct impression that the contemporary aversion to both the tidings of the Virgin Birth and the full acknowledgement of the Divine Sonship rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of both and on the false connection between the two that seems to be widely assumed.
Well said. Scientist Wildman concludes the article by saying
''The bottom line for me: I think the virgin birth is a mistaken belief,'' Wildman says. ''I also think that this need have no impact whatsoever on Mary's and Jesus' moral and spiritual importance.''
Wildman should stick to science, methinks. Even the journalist who penned the article can see better than that.

Heaven

Superadditum Naturae I've been distracted from Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity this week, but I'm still intending to do a number of selections on the blog. I'm working them in slowly so as not to be monotonous. Anyway, here is a short bit that I like very much. It's from the part of the Nicene Creed that says "He ascended into Heaven":
Hell consists in man's being unwilling to receive anything. It is the expression of enclosure in one's on being alone... that man will not take anything, but wants to stand entirely on his own feet, to be sufficient to himself. If this becomes utterly radical, then man has become the untouchable, the solitary, the reject... it is the nature of the upper end of the scale which we have called Heaven that it can only be received, just as one can only give Hell to oneself. "Heaven" is by nature what one has not made oneself and cannot make oneself; in Scholastic language it was said to be, as grace, a donum indebtum et superadditum naturae (an unowed gift added over and above nature). As fulfilled love, Heaven can always only be granted to man; but Hell is the loneliness of the man who will not accept it, who declines the status of beggar and withdraws into himself.

Dissent in a time of war

Glen 'Instapundit' Reynolds says much more bluntly what I was coyly suggesting yesterday:
WELL, THE HATEMAIL HAS POURED IN after my earlier post on Bush's speech. For the record, though, I didn't say (and don't think) that anyone who opposes the war is unpatriotic. (In fact, only antiwar people seem to keep raising this strawman). But the Democratic politicans who are pushing the "Bush Lied" meme are, I think, playing politics with the war in a way that is, in fact, unpatriotic. Having voted for the war, they now want to cozy up to the increasingly powerful MoveOn crowd, which is immensely antiwar. The "Bush Lied" meme is their way of getting cover... it's not "dissent" that's unpatriotic, something I've been at pains to note in the past. It's putting one's own political positions first, even if doing so encourages our enemies, as this sort of talk is sure to do.
Also here:
UPDATE: Reader Kathleen Boerger emails: "Could you do me a favor and define 'patriotism' please?" I think it starts with not uttering falsehoods that damage the country in time of war, simply because your donor base wants to hear them. Patriotic people could -- and did -- oppose the war. But so did a lot of scoundrels. And some who supported the war were not patriotic, if they did it out of opportunism or political calculation rather than honest belief. Those who are now trying to recast their prior positions through dishonest rewriting of history are not patriotic now, nor were they when they supported the war, if they did so then out of opportunism --which today's revisionist history suggests. Judging from the lefty hatemail this post has created, I have to observe that it's odd -- people who have spent the past year saying that Bush took us to war to enrich Halliburton somehow now think it's beyond the bounds of civilized discussion to question people's motives on the war.
And in an update to the first post linked above:
it's surprising the extent to which people who routinely make the Halliburton and chickenhawk slurs seem to require much greater delicacy from others.
Althouse concurs with Reynolds and my own thoughts are in line with these bloggers. Good company, IMHO.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Signals of transcendence

Connexions reviews Allistar Mcgrath's book The Twilight of Atheism and finds plenty of things to say:
“There has always been a sense in which the natural sciences are opposed to authoritarianism of any kind,” nevertheless “Most historians regard religion as having a generally benign and constructive relationship with the natural sciences . . . As leading historians of science regularly point out, the interaction of science and religion is determined primarily by historical circumstances and only secondarily by their respective subject matters” (p. 84). The theory of evolution is the case in point. On the one hand, plenty of church leaders in the 19th century actually welcomed Darwinism both for its explanatory power and theological possibilities. Charles Kingsley, for example, criticised Paley’s argument from design for its mechanical and static notion of providence, finding the idea of a God who directs but does not determine an evolutionary process an altogether more dynamic one. On the other hand, Darwin’s notorious loss of faith had little to do with his scientific discoveries but everything to do (a) with his profound distaste for the “damnable doctrine” of eternal punishment, and (b) with his inconsolable grief over the death of his little daughter. To cut to the chase (as McGrath puts it in another recent book, Dawkins’ God, which is a comprehensive demolition of the scientific fundamentalism of the bad-tempered self-styled “Devil’s Chaplain” from Oxford): “The ‘conflict’ model [between science and religion] has its origins in the specific conditions of the Victorian era, in which an emerging professional intellectual group [i.e. natural scientists] sought to displace a group which had hitherto occupied the place of honour [i.e. the Anglican clergy].” Moral: always pay close attention to the social location of ideas, and to the way knowledge is deployed in the service of ideology and power. As a Reformed churchman, I was most riveted – and shamed – by the discussion of the link between Protestantism and the emergence of atheism. While the Reformers’ desacralisation of creation (the old nature/grace dichotomy) contributed, laudably, to the rise of the natural sciences and the decline of magic and superstition, nevertheless, by uncoupling the holy from material reality it also evacuated everyday life of transcendence. Moreover, with its biblical literalism and suspicion of metaphor, Protestantism led to the inflation of reason at the expense of the imagination. And not only in ossified Protestant orthodoxy but in plodding Protestant liberalism. So while the systematicians and the questers for the historical Jesus were boring the faith out of people, the poets (Shelly’s “unacknowledged legislators of mankind”) tried to make up the imaginative deficit, not by lapsing into outright atheism, which they found equally soulless, but by listening for signals of transcendence outside conventional Christianity, above all in nature beautiful and sublime. McGrath himself doesn’t make the connection but I’ll suggest it: take the fossilized theological correctness of conservative evangelicals, the asphyxiating closures of reactionary Catholics, the busted-flush theology of liberals, and the theological suicide of anti-realists, and is it any wonder that the hungry are searching for bread in the empty larders of smorgasbord spirituality and New Age mumbo-jumbo?
I love the point about the anti authoritarian nature of the sciences. Capital T truth isn't in the service of any party, ideology or religion. Rather, it's something that we seek after using different tools. Ignore the hyperbole of this Reuters story on evolution; it makes a similar point. Science and religion are both attempts to describe something that is larger than either method alone, and probably bigger than both together. Don't make a science out of religion and don't make a religion of science.

The new narrative

Old media?
When you hear [Pat Robertson's] words do you experience (a) an acidic surge of joy because you are 99.9 percent sure that you know what Robertson is going to say, or (b) a sense of sorrow for precisely the same reason? If you answered (a), then I would bet the moon and the stars that you are someone who doesn't think highly of Christian conservatives and their beliefs. If you answered (b), you are probably one of those Christians... Some journalists are happy to see Robertson's face on television screens, because every time he opens his mouth he reinforces their stereotype of a conservative Christian.
New Media?
Though their parents may have taught them to take refuge in a parallel Christian subculture, the movies these people found in Christian bookstores bored and embarrassed them. To be accepted at Act One you have to believe that Jesus is a real presence in your life. But the worst insult you can deliver there is to say that a movie reminds you of such notoriously low-budget Christian schlock as the Left Behind series and The Omega Code, or that the dialogue sounds like “Christianese.” ... The movie industry remains affected by post-9/11 national anxiety, and now studio heads want to make movies that "mean something." At the same time, it’s well aware of what’s known around town as "Passion dollars" — the previously untapped religious audience that made Mel Gibson’s independently distributed movie The Passion of the Christ last year’s biggest surprise. Recently the entertainment TV show Inside Edition invited [Barb] Nicolosi to be a guest. "When I first came [to Hollywood], I never thought I’d be on Inside Edition," she confessed to the host before the show. “Didn’t you know?” he replied. "'Christian' is the new 'gay.'"
It's not bias, it's meta narrative selection.

Academic scribblers and the inspiration of madmen

November 11th is a day for remembering the sacrifices and sufferings of veterans and part and parcel of that is not squadering what they've achieved. With that in mind, here is Robert Fulford on Margaret Olwen MacMillan's book 1919: Six Month that Changed the World. MacMillan, an Oxford D.Phil. in history, provost of Trinity College and professor of history at the University of Toronto, has a thesis that is perennially relevant:
In 1919, after serving as a Treasury official with the British delegation at the six-months-long Paris peace conference, Keynes wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace, arguing that the peace treaty imposed impossible conditions on Germany. His book was a best seller, particularly in Germany, where his views became Holy Writ. In 1936, on another subject entirely, Keynes would explain how politicians and dictators unthinkingly repeat the wrong-headed ideas of faded academics: "Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back." He didn't understand that he was already the most significant scribbler of his day, the inspiration of madmen. Keynes undermined the authority of Allied governments in their later dealings with Germany and encouraged both pre-Hitler governments and the Nazis to defy, again and again, the restraints that Versailles had placed on them, notably disarmament. Others have since argued with the views of Keynes, but MacMillan in her quiet way demolished them. In future, everyone who writes about The Economic Consequences of the Peace will have to deal with her measured, fact-based analysis. The real problem, she showed, was that the Germans did not acknowledge their guilt for the First World War and didn't even believe they were defeated - though their generals told the Kaiser it was all over and he had to sue for peace. MacMillan believes it would have been better, in the end, if the Allied armies had marched straight to Berlin, so that the Germans could have understood precisely what had happened to them. Instead, the German army was welcomed home by a president who said "We greet you undefeated." That began a propaganda campaign that convinced Germans they had been stabbed in the back by disloyal politicians and forced to accept peace terms that lacked legitimacy. Understanding how this worked will alter permanently many common ideas about the course of the last century. The folklore of betrayal turned into a lie that spread mass paranoia, made every German feel wronged, and eventually brought Hitler to power. Nationalists argued that financial reparations imposed at Versailles emasculated Germany and caused both inflation and unemployment. They continued to believe this even after they became, in a mere 20 years (1919-1939), capable of making war on the rest of Europe. MacMillan, introducing a little realism into a hysteria-driven argument, showed that reparations were far, far lower than most of the world imagined.
I've read 1919 and it is an interesting look at interesting times. MacMillan's thesis is a reminder that while the lives of veterans can be squandered in foolish wars, as the pacifist left never tires of telling us, they can also be squandered through diplomatic and political failure to deal charitably with human nature as it is. It's no use treating with saints (or devils) when what you're dealing with is human. Postscript: See here.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

GooglePrint

As a bibliophile who loves old and odd books I think GooglePrint sounds marvelous. Students of all kinds of information should be welcoming such a development. The Association of American Publishers (AAP), on the other hand, is feeling threatened. Google has offered to remove any book at a publisher's request but that hasn't gone over well:
The AAP was insulted; its CEO, Pat Schroeder, announced, "Google's procedure shifts the responsibility for preventing infringement to the copyright owner rather than the user, turning every principle of copyright law on its ear." Schroeder is right, but the Authors Guild and the AAP are wrong. Copyright law has been turned on its ear, but it's not Google that did the turning; it's the Internet. Nor is it Google that is exploiting this turn; that title goes to the Authors Guild and the AAP. Indeed, their claims about Google represent the biggest landgrab in the history of the Internet, and if taken seriously, will chill a wide range of innovation. Because if the AAP is right, it's not Google Print that's illegal. The outlaw is Google itself - and Yahoo!, and MSN Search, and the Internet Archive, and every other technology that makes knowledge useful in a digital age. Think about Google's core business: It copies whatever content it finds on the Web and puts that content in an index. It doesn't ask the copyright owner first, though it does exclude content if asked. Thus, Google wants to do for books exactly what it has always done for the Web. Why should one be illegal and the other different? Google creates value - a lot of it - by indexing existing content. But when it comes to books, the content owners want a slice of that value - and who wouldn't? No publisher ever said, "I'll lose money on book sales, but I'll make it up from Internet searches." They therefore intone "grave misgivings" about copyright in order to demand a piece of the action: money. It's an old technique (the Motion Picture Association of America famously tried it against Sony Betamax). But the inspiration is not copyright, it's Tony Soprano.
I don't understand why the people at the AAP can't see the opportunity here. Somebody finds something of interest in an obscure old book. Word begins to ciculate about the work in question. Next thing you know, there' a demand for a hard copy with up to date expert commentary and annotations. Is this really so hard to see?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Philosoblog

It looks like Jim Ryan might be resurrecting Philosoblog. Great news if it's true.

Work and play

I didn't post last night because I was working on the new computer, which arrived on Monday. OK, I was playing with it too. And I was really surprised at how quickly it arrived. It came via regular mail (Canada Post) from Mississagua, Ontario on Friday and it was here on the west coast Monday. That's service! When I ordered it I was mostly interested in getting the best combination of processor, RAM and HD space. I knew this thing was going to have a DVD player; I was surprised to find not only a DVD player but also a DVD burner and a wireless mouse and keyboard. I've got the mouse and keyboard figured out. They're simple enough even if moving from a trackball to a mouse is a bit disorienting. I've never burned a DVD (CDs, yes) so that's something I'll get to... eventually. I'm really happy with this machine so far. Everything just pops open, and the multimedia stuff is awesome. Great framerates on the movies I view at Apple.com and visualizations from WinAmp are smoo-oooth. Most importantly, Quake 3 runs like melted butter with a lot of detail. That surprised me because I did not expect great things from Intel video. Things change, I guess. Unfortunately, every new system needs a lot of programs downloaded and installed. Like w.bloggar, for example. Then there's all the crud PC makers install. Trials and light versions of everything under the sun, it seems. I haven't tackled my start menu yet but I'll have to do it soon. It's a pain in the rear end finding anything right now. Anywho, enough techno jargon. I'm fine. I'm working on stuff. I'm going to try and resume posting once a day starting tomorrow. This one's too fluffy to count.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Intellectual pillars of social conservatism

Althouse tips me off to a most interesting WAPO story on the pending changes to the US Supreme Court:
In the view of Howard Gillman, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California, the possibility that five Catholics may soon sit on the court is less striking than the fact that all five are Republicans. "It certainly is a dramatic reflection of the changing demographics of our parties," he said. Since the 1960s, the Republican Party has made substantial inroads among Catholics, who are a quarter of the U.S. population and have roughly split their votes in recent presidential elections, tipping narrowly toward Al Gore in 2000 and then toward George W. Bush in 2004. Why have recent Republican presidents turned again and again to Catholic jurists when making appointments to the Supreme Court? It may be partly an effort to woo Catholic voters, but mostly it's because so many of the brightest stars in the conservative legal firmament are Catholics, several scholars said. Gillman believes that beginning in the 1960s, many conservative Catholics went into the legal profession "because they felt the constitutional jurisprudence of the country was not reflecting their values," particularly on abortion, funding for parochial schools and restrictions on religion in public places. "I think you're seeing the fruits of those efforts now," he said. Bernard Dobranski, dean of Ave Maria School of Law, a Catholic institution founded in 2000 in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the number of highly qualified conservative Catholic lawyers is also a tribute to the strength of Catholic schools, the determination of immigrants to educate their children and a rich tradition of legal scholarship in the Catholic Church. A hallmark of that tradition is the belief in "natural law," a basic set of moral principles that the church says is written in the hearts of all people and true for all societies. Though long out of favor in secular law schools, the natural law approach is resurgent among conservatives, Dobranski said. ... Evangelical Protestants are also becoming more visible on Ivy League campuses and at top law schools. But, said Notre Dame's Bradley, "I do think that there is an important truth in saying that Catholics are the intellectual pillars of social conservatism. Compared to their political allies in that movement, Catholics are heirs to a richer intellectual tradition and... are more inclined to believe that reason supplies good grounds for the moral and political positions characteristic of social conservatism. Call it the 'natural law' thing."
Althouse comments:
Interesting. The article also notes that Justice William Brennan, the Court's last passionate liberal, was also Catholic. Liberals are missing something if they lose the sense that rights are real and substantial. As I listen to the attacks on Judge Alito, I hear, relentlessly expressed, the idea that law is political and judges are all ideologues who, given power, will work their will on us. Where are the passionate, Brennanesque liberals of yore, who really believed we have rights? Is that belief becoming solely a conservative notion ?
I think the answer to Ann's question about the nature of rights is 'yes' - the left side of the spectrum appears to be in thrall to positivism and that explains why they see all interactions, exchanges, and conflicts as being ultimately about power. How do you even begin to deal with someone who holds such a view? I'm simplifying, of course, but it can't be denied that 60's Dems have people like Foucault on their minds and those who don't inhale it second hand at the water cooler unawares. It seems to me that it was inevitable that sincere and informed Catholics would have to distance themselves from a party that embraced such an outlook. What we are seeing now is that the Dems have a real decision to make. Court the middle that is now in the process of leaving, or sit on the sidelines until the party bleeds to death. Yup, I think it's that bleak. You build on a rotten foundation and this is what happens.
In Canada, our legal power base also has a number of Catholics in it. Both our former and our current Prime Minister are Catholic, for example, as was Joe Clark. Quebec, one of the largest and most influential provinces in the Confederation, has a rich history of Catholicism. So what is different here? Why are we subject to PM's like Paul Martin and Pierre Trudeau? The worm has not turned here and I don't see a lot in the way of signs that it will any time soon. The problem here is not just one or two generations of collapsed faith. I think Quebec's Catholic culture sat higher and fell harder than anything in the US experience. It had too large and too firm a grasp and it failed to modernize effectively and as a result it has been discredited and it has no close ties to a vital Protestant culture due to both a certain cultural chauvinism that I've alluded to before, and a language barrier that is also a significant factor in keeping the better parts of US evangelism out. I see our Catholic power elite's embrace of positive freedom as being a result of that monolithic culture's disrepute. They appear to have kept the older ways of central state power and melded it with the new left ideas of all relations being at the bottom power relations. They can't trust anyone to do what's right, so it has to be codified if there is to be any good, any freedom. When all you see is coercive power relationships, it's OK to have a huge, meddling state as long as it uses that power for good, to reign in all that coercion. This is not what natural law is about. The natural law is the criterion for deciding if a law is just or not. If it is not, then no amount of codification and social engineering will make a law work. The natural law is also all embracing, so that it does not need for all of it to be reflected in the laws of a just state. I can only look on to recent goings on down south and hope there might be a carryover effect of some sort. A generational change on the Liberal side, a stronger natural law effort by Conservatives on this side of the border, I think Canada needs both of these things if it is to succeed in the future.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Spiritual sorority houses

Thanks to Fidei Defensor for the lead to this article on church sex ratios.
[David] Murrow notes that, among the major Christian denominations, it is the mainline churches that suffer the largest gender gaps in church attendance. These churches, still pilloried by feminists for their patriarchal pretensions, have in fact become spiritual sorority houses. It is the more conservative denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, that have the most even ratios. In these more traditional churches, many of which do not have female clergy, parishioners hear less about cooperation and feel-good spirituality and more about spiritual rigor and the competition to win souls. Churches that embrace male leadership, including the Roman Catholic Church, remain the largest in the country, and the Mormon Church, which also does not have female clergy, is the fastest-growing.
Murrow is the author of Why Men hate Going to Church. Charlotte Allen, another author quoted in the article, says that:
The problem is that men love ritual and solemnity and women, influenced by our all-pervasive therapeutic culture, bring a therapeutic style to the liturgy.
In my experience Allen's comment rings true. It brings to mind a passage from Introduction to Christianity, a book by Pope Benedict that I've just about finished. Ratzinger writes:
In view of the New Testament's message of love, there is more and more of a tendency today to resolve the Christian religion into brotherly love, "fellowship", and not to admit any direct love of God or adoration of God: only the horizontal [of the cross] is recognized; the vertical of immediate relationship to God is denied. It is not difficult to see, after what we have said, how this at first sight very attractive conception fails to grasp not only the substance of Christianity but also that of true humanity. Brotherly love that aimed at self sufficiency would become for this very reason the extreme egotism of self assertion. It refuses its last openness, tranquility, and selflessness if it does not accept this love's need for redemption through him alone who loves sufficiently. And, for all its goodwill, in the last resort it does others and itself an injustice, for man cannot perfect himself in the reciprocity of human fellowship alone... The disinterested character of simple adoration is man's highest possibility it alone forms his true and final liberation.
It's not my intention to belabour sex differences in worship, but speaking very generally, I think it is not outlandish to say that women are more often inclined to the social, horizontal aspect of Christianity and men to the vertical. Neither is to be preferred. We need one another in order to see the cross as clearly as we can, and this need is not confined to marital relations alone. It is hard to imagine women clergy, for example, writing as Ratzinger does about the crucifixion:
In the last analysis, pain is the product and expression of Jesus Christ's being stretched out from being in God right down to the hell of "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Anyone who has stretched his existence so wide that he is simultaneously immersed in God and in the depths of the God forsaken creature is bound to be torn asunder, as it were; such a one is truly "crucified". But this process of being torn apart is identical with love; it is its realization to the extreme (Jn 13:1) and the concrete expression of the breadth it creates.
Despite the bloody imagery, there is a lesson here for all, an example of what the cross being realized in an idividual. Similarly, Mary is often held up an example for women and this is done by both the religious, who adore her submissiveness and by modernists, who hold her in contempt for the same reason. Mary, however, is not an example for women alone, nor is her primary virtue that of submission. Her virtue is in fact recognition of the divine; it is faith. Error about Mary lies in not understanding her role. Mary is not Jesus' biological mother and this is why the Nicene Creed says that Jesus is "begotten not made." Ratzinger says of the annunciation:
What is to happen to Mary is new creation: the God who called forth being out of nothing makes a new beginning amid humanity: his Word becomes flesh... [Mary] appears as the temple upon which descends the cloud in which God walks into the midst of history. Whoever puts himself at God's disposal disappears with him in the cloud, into oblivion and insignificance, and precisely in this way aquires a share in his glory.
Her pivotal attribute is not submission but faith that enables her to recognize God and give of herself on a very large scale. She has value for men and women (yes, even modern women) because with Mary begins "the new Israel":
Mary is the image of the Church, the image of believing man, who can come to salvation and to himself only through the gift of love - through Grace... She does not contest of endanger salvation through Christ; she points to it. She represents mankind, which as a whole is expectation... [and is] in danger of giving up waiting and putting its trust in doing, which... can never fill the void that threatens man...
If the church is to be described as a "spiritual sorority house" let it be in this sense rather than the one I started this post with. This sense of it preserves that sense of intersection that is crucial to Christianity.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Coming out

"I'm okay, you're okay - in small doses." Via Althouse comes this gem from The Atlantic:
Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast." Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring. Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses." ... The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books - written, no doubt, by extroverts - regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."
If you hadn't guessed it, introvert describes me very well. There's a reason I can tear through as much print as I do, and it's because I regularly need to get away and collect my thoughts. Not all of the time, mind, but I'm familiar with that wilting feeling the article describes as being brought on my too much exposure to chatter. I've been this way all my life and can recall clearly as a child being asked by adults "if I was OK" and beiung told to smile. That's a hell of a way to appraoch someone who is perfectly fine and minding his own business. It might even, shall we say, have a negative impact on their self esteem. That was then and this is now, however, and I've long since made peace with this difference in temperment. Variety is the spice of life, after all!

Southern Orthodoxy?

This is a remarkable post by a non Catholic blogger (a Baptist, I believe):
What I find highly ironic is the way that Protestants like to portray the Roman Catholic Church as biblically illiterate, when the fact is that they are doing a much better job of synthesizing biblical scholarship and pastoral instruction than any Protestant denomination. I really question whether any Evangelical denomination would have the ecclesial resources to put together a work [Pontifical Biblical Commission's The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church] of this kind of sophistication. If they did, no doubt the eyes of many pastors would simply glaze over in the attempt to read it. In the Evangelical world, the church and the academy operate in separate realms (which is why Christian apologetics is in such a sorry state), whereas in the Roman Catholic Church, the academy is able to serve as a help to the Church. Though this does not always work that way, the structures are at least in place to enable it to do so. One quote from the document I found extremely perceptive, and that is in its comments about the hermeneutics of Fundamentalism: “The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation of this kind is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired Word of God has been expressed in human language and that this Word has been expressed, under divine inspiration, by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources.” This Nestorian disjunction between the divine realm and the historical realm in fundamentalist hermeneutics explains a lot with regard to the spiritual barrenness and death which many people have encountered in religious fundamentalism. It is the inevitable result of projecting upon the Divine a distance from the messiness of the real world which is integral to their hermeneutical theory.
The blog describes itself as
an online theological journal designed to highlight the sacramental, trinitarian, and covenantal connection we have with the historic Church. We term it a Reformational contribution to catholicity. Semper Reformanda is just as important today as it was in John Calvin’s day and we strive to encourage and exhort our brothers and sisters in Christ to consider what we can do in our own churches, denominations, and fellowships to make catholicity a priority among the faithful.
I have to admit to not knowing very much about Baptists. How common is such a view? Would I be wrong to think this is Baptist Paleo Orthodoxy is a minority opinion?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Goose and gander

From The Daily Standard:
In the marriage market, too, despite what Dowd claims, women are facing less of a choice between love and self-improvement than ever before. She cites, for instance, a much-quoted study showing that women's marriage chances drop as their IQs rise. But she fails to mention--understandably, since it tended to be ignored by the breathless press reports--that the study was conducted on a population of women born in 1930s Great Britain. More up-to-date analyses suggest that the trend is moving in the opposite direction, and highly-educated women are considerably more likely to get married than in the past. A recent study noted that in 1980, a woman in her early forties with 19 years of education under her belt (i.e., a college degree and some graduate work) had just a 66 percent chance of being married, whereas a fortysomething female who left school after high school had an 83 percent chance of wedlock. But today the gap has disappeared: highly-educated women are just as likely to wed as the secretaries, nannies, flight attendants and "upstairs maids" that Dowd is convinced are poaching all the men. OF COURSE, some of these highly-educated brides may be dumped eventually, during their hubby's midlife crisis, for a bright young fact-checker. But this points to the problem with nearly all the "what-happened-to-feminism?" arguments--they ignore the extent to which the problems post-feminist women face aren't the result of feminism's failure, but byproducts of its success. The "trophy wife" phenomenon is a case in point. Feminists wanted women to be able to leave loveless marriages and escape abusive husbands, so they backed the push for easy divorce--and sure enough, no-fault split-ups have made it easier for women to shake free of miserable unions. But they've also made it much, much easier for Woody to leave Mia and shack up with Soon-Yi.
Alright, I confess. I always think of Dowd as a punchline in a joke being told by a skipping record. I can't remember what the joke was, but it's still funny in a twisted kind of way.