"...minute and particular." -- Enormous Generalities
Monday, June 24, 2002
MARINATING IN SIN
I wouldn’t lump Steven Den Beste’s latest discussion on the Church in with the stack of recent articles that I’ve claimed have the sophistication you might find in a high school paper. He’s clearly intelligent, insightful, and very much engaged in the issues of the day. And the fact that he can write coherently and persuasively on so many topics speaks for itself. But, as I pointed out here, Steven tends to underestimate the nuances and wisdom of the Catholic Tradition. Dave Trowbridge has a nice response to Steven’s question, “How can the Church perform its function when it has been so thoroughly marinated in sin?” (Dave’s also got a nice post on “the depth, variety, and subtlety of the Christian intellectual tradition” that’s worth reading). Here’s how I would respond to the “marinated-in-sin” objection:
There’s a classic homily joke that goes something like this: A guy tells his wife he’s going to Mass and then ends up at the local pub. This goes on for a few weeks and she gets suspicious so she decides to quiz him one Sunday upon his return.
She asks, “What was the homily about?"Anyway, surely everyone is against sin. And it would seem on the surface that “a Church marinated in sin” must have something wrong with it. But here’s the interesting aspect of sin that often gets missed: sin is not inevitable, yet everyone sins. If you grasp that seeming paradox, you’ll grasp why a Church marinated in sin is not contradictory. Sin occurs because we have free will and in our daily existence we lack a certain consonance between our longing for God and our actions. Sin is “tolerated” because we all sin, not because it is something petty or of little significance. In fact, grave sin is considered a turning away from God that is quite perilous. The Church is thoroughly marinated in sin because it’s been thoroughly handed over to sinners, to the community of believers who, with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, strive to protect, preserve, and cherish it. As Dave points out, the efficacy of the Sacraments is unaffected by the sinfulness of a priest, bishop, or pope. Are sinful priests or bishops or popes a good thing? Of course not. Should priests and bishops be prosecuted if they violate the law? Of course.
Well, then what about Den Beste’s question about how a bishop can continue to serve “when he's under indictment for obstruction of justice”? There’s a simple answer: the service of a bishop, the office of a bishop, and the grace conferred at his ordination are not bound by human law (law legislated by a human community). Is the priest or bishop himself bound by human law? Absolutely. But the office and grace conferred on the ordained to minister the Sacraments are not bound by the law. This is why the Seal of Confession is not affected by any human law. Now obviously, as Den Beste suggests, if priests and bishops are thrown in jail it will have some effect. But the effect will simply be the physical removal of the priest or bishop, not the removal of the power of his office.
What is significant about the Church is not that it’s marinating in sin, but that the sinful marinade never penetrates the core of the Church, the Sacraments, the Scriptures, and the Tradition handed on over the centuries. And at the center of the believing community is the Eucharist, the words and actions of one who was like us in all things except sin.
VERY INTERESTING DISCUSSIONS GOING . . .
on about this recent Supreme Court decision in the comments section of this post over at In Between Naps.
Sunday, June 23, 2002
ONE MORE ROUND BEFORE IT’S GONE
Saturday, June 22, 2002
Friday, June 21, 2002
BREAK OUT THE OL’ “HELL IS NOT DISNEYLAND” SPEECH
Sometimes there’s simply no choice but to break out your best material
A mere eight days into United Methodist Church's summer Bible school, youth pastor John Dearden, 49, was forced to break out his trademark "Hell Is Not Disneyland" speech Monday, outlining the differences between eternal damnation and the popular Anaheim, CA, theme park.I wonder if we’ll start seeing this on blogs: “Well, I had to repost the ol’ _________ screed for the fifth time.” Or, “It made me want to repost my trademark ____________ rant just to get his attention.”
Thursday, June 20, 2002
SOCCER FIELD NARROWLY MISSED THE EARTH
This article (link via The Drudge Report) is a little unsettling.
An asteroid the size of a soccer field narrowly missed the Earth by 75,000 miles (120,000 kms) last week, in the closest known approach by objects of this size in decades, scientists said Thursday.The best line is from “Grant Stokes, the principal investigator for the Lincoln Laboratory Near Earth Asteroid Research Project, whose New Mexico observatory spotted the object.” According to Stokes,
Asteroids of that size are estimated to hit the Earth every 100 to several hundred years, causing local damage, but no disaster to civilization or the planet's ecosystem . . . . Civilization has to get used to them on some level.Get used to them?
If you want to see just how close this thing came to Earth, take a look at this diagram (link via InstaPundit).
THE MOUSE IN THE ELEPHANT COSTUME IN THE SACRISTY
Aristotle’s concern that “A small mistake in the beginning becomes a large mistake in the end” would be a nice rebuttal to Mary Eberstadt’s long article “The Elephant in the Sacristy” (I know, I’m a little late to the party on this). Perhaps a better title would have been “The Mouse in the Elephant Costume in the Sacristy.” If you give her the initial small points she wants, she’ll then succeed in beating you over the head and shoulders with point after larger point after larger point to shore up her position. Care to see what happens when you let a mouse impersonate an elephant in the sacristy? Check this (via InstaPundit) out:
I would go further than Ms. Eberstadt or Ms. Welborn; I think this scandal is grounded in the essentials of Catholic doctrines about sex, sin, guilt, and authority. This is not an accidental corruption of the church, any more than Stalin was an accidental corruption of Communism. Bad moral ideas have consequences, and those consequences can be seen most clearly in the human monsters who are both created by those ideas and exploiters of them. There is a causal chain that connects loathsome creatures like the "Reverend" Paul Shanley directly back to the authoritarianism and anti-sexuality of St. Augustine; a chain well-analyzed by psychologists such as Stanley Milgram and Wilhelm Reich. I suggest that any religion that makes obedience to authority a primary virtue and pathologizes sex will produce abuses like these as surely as rot breeds maggots.I’ll assume Armed and Dangerous is, well, just that, and so I’ll refrain from pointing out the many fallacies of reason and unsubstantiated premises in this statement. I’ll just say that this is a perfect example of where Eberstadt’s thinking will lead you.
So, let’s look at her position:
In what follows, therefore, I propose that we tunnel down through the diverting abstractions in which the debate has been shrouded, and then reason back upward from the level of simple fact. For in focusing precisely on the uncontested facts of cases, we do learn something potentially useful not only to the bishops as they hammer out policies for the future, but also to the victims, and possibly even the perpetrators, of this evil. In order to get there, however, we must be able to call the elephant by its name. The real problem facing the American Catholic church is that a great many boys have been seduced or forced into homosexual acts by certain priests; that these offenders appear to have been disproportionately represented in certain seminaries; and that their case histories open questions about sexuality that--verboten though they may have become--demand to be reexamined.Please note that I’m not questioning Church Teaching on sexuality. I think, pace A & D, that the wisdom of the Tradition and Teaching on human sexuality is simply unsurpassed. Rather, I’m questioning the use of statistics in predicting human behavior. I’m questioning the stark lines drawn up when categorizing human beings and the unflinching tendency to draw conclusions from these categories. As I pointed out in my earlier post, sexual abuse of children, adolescents, and adults is a great evil that “is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God.*” It is the result of the ability of every human being to sin, to commit evil, to harm another person. It’s a failure of chastity and a deep inability to recognize the dignity of another person. My objection to statistics and sociological studies of certain “types” of people, of claims that a certain “group” is responsible for what seems to be a trend, is that this trivializes the evil and individual culpability of the perpetrators at the core of the Church sexual abuse scandal. Such labeling and accusations create lifeless abstractions, demean the innocent, and absolve the guilty.
Twain’s famous “lies, damned lies, and statistics” used to point out the fallacy of leaning too heavily on statistics. But I think it’s lost much of its sting. Perhaps folks will soon be saying “some of my best friends are fill in whatever fits here” and no one will do a double take. I’m tempted to put a link to a Statistics 101 site on this blog so that I can just stick the link in a post, point the reader to it for a refresher, and then continue with my point. And my point here is that the bedrock rule of statistics, that correlation does NOT imply causation, still applies these days.
The Church’s current crisis started with individual acts of sexual abuse. How were these acts possible? Well, how is any evil act possible? Do some people have a proclivity toward sexual abuse? Sure. Can we identify these people ahead of time if they are not sexually abusive? No. Unless we want to attribute sexual abuse to some bio-chemical mechanism in the brain that eliminates free will and therefore all personal culpability, there is no behavior short of actual sexual abuse that will tip us off that a priest might sexually abuse a child, adolescent, or adult. If you claim homosexual behavior qualifies as an indicator of potential sexual abuse, then you’ll need to:
1) explain what homosexual behavior isThe first, unless you’re privy to what is typically fairly private activity, will likely end up as a mishmash of speculation. And notice in the second, that I’m suggesting the activity would have to be equivalent to sexual abuse. Why? Well, if it’s not actual sexual abuse then it can, at best, only be behavior correlative to sexual abuse and any attempts to attribute causality will fail. It’s probably clear that I doubt explanations about these two points will ever achieve a level of moral certitude.
Eberstadt is not attempting to identify those who have committed sexual abuse – that’s obviously a matter for the police and I’m all for prosecuting those responsible. Rather, she’s attempting to identify a “type” of person or a “group” of people who have the propensity to commit sexual abuse. And I’m afraid that the free will of every human being dooms that attempt to failure.
QUOTIDIAN QUOTE (QQ Archives)
It is the private life that holds out the mirror to infinity; personal intercourse, and that alone, that ever hints at a personality beyond our daily vision.
~~~ E.M. Forster, Howard’s End
”riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay”
This (link via Anne Wilson via Bookslut) is a very funny account of an attempt to tackle Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
So there I was in a North Vancouver coffee shop, with my laptop and the Penguin. Jacked up on two Americanos and ready for anything the author could throw at me, I cracked open Joyce's cryptobrick.I’ve not read FW and don’t think I’ll ever attempt it unless I enroll in some college extension course on Joyce. There’s a point of diminishing returns with these kinds of works where the insight and pleasure you might get once you’ve grasped the meaning is not commensurate to the energy required to decipher them.
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF A CHILD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Amy Welborn found this comment on the tragic death of a 21-month-old girl. Probably everyone wants this unbearable story to go away. I know I do and I know that’s not the best reaction. But I just can’t imagine a more horrific scene than
On May 29, the 13th and youngest Kelly child, 21-month-old Frances, waited strapped in her car seat inside the stifling family van for seven hours as other Kellys did chores and apparently never asked where she was or whether she might need food or a diaper change.So I wrestled with even posting anything on it and now I wonder if my commenting on a comment about it is appropriate. The point of this recent article is that the coverage of this story has been skewed by the fact that the Kellys are Catholic and belong to “a mainstream conservative parish.”
After years of reading opinion pieces in The Washington Times, I believe that if the situation involved a single African-American mom in the District of Columbia with even six kids (let alone 13) who'd lost track of one, there'd be a call for forced sterilization and demands that Social Services take her children away. You can't convince me that the connection to a mainstream conservative parish doesn't affect the coverage to some degree.I wonder, though, if the timing of this article and raising the issue of the Kelly’s religion isn’t the equivalent of “playing the race card”? I think there probably has been bias in the coverage of this story. And it seems the media might have dug in a bit more if the Kellys belonged to a cult or some obscure religion.
But isn’t the image of a 21-month-old toddler strapped in a seat and dying from heat and suffocation kind of off-limits for political commentary? Isn’t this a case of an unbelievably tragic set of circumstances that had consequences that no one involved could have ever intended? The Kelly's religion, politics, race, class and so on have nothing whatsoever to do with this terribly, terribly sad story. To bring it up now strikes me as inappropriate and opportunistic. That the media have backed off from this story and the devastated family is probably a great blessing. That someone feels this incident is a good springboard for diving into the issue of media bias and objectivity is unfortunate.
GOD, HEAVY ROCKS, AND LIFTING
I have to say that USS Clueless swerves into some great topics. There’s a breadth to the posts that is quite impressive. Still, I think he sometimes underestimates the depth and nuance of arguments in the Christian, or perhaps I should just say Catholic, Tradition. This recent post ( link via Mark Butterworth , also see Louder Fenn and Lane Core who offers this link ) discusses what is impossible for God. As the captain of USS Clueless explains, “Tonight I'm going to explain Russell's Paradox and show how it can be used to prove that there are limits on the capability of God.” I think I followed the argument and I know I found it kind of interesting. Here’s a taste of the final assertion:
Define the universe set V to be all actions. Within that we define two subsets G representing all the actions God is capable of, and G' representing all actions God is not capable of. (G' is defined as being everything which is in V which is not in G.) The hypothesis is that G' is empty, because God is omnipotent and thus is capable of doing everything. (Thus the hypothesis is that G is equal to V.) There is no act that God cannot do, and therefore G' is the null set.Huh? Okay, I’ll admit you have to slow down from your normal blog reading speed to follow. Anyway, perhaps I’m just a bit too sensitive about these things, but if you go read the whole post there’s a tone of discovery to the assertion that “there must be something God cannot do” that connotes a typical misunderstanding of traditional notions about God. The misunderstanding goes something like this:
God is omnipotentBut these kinds of statements lack any real metaphysical depth. And, as I said above, I think such remarks derive from underestimating the sophistication and wisdom of traditional philosophical and theological thinking. Let me try to explain with a distinction Thomas Aquinas makes.
Early on in his Summa of Theology ST I, 14, 9 he asks whether God can have knowledge of things which do not exist. To answer this question, Aquinas proposes that things can be divided into actual beings and possible beings. Actual beings are those beings which now exist, i.e. all of Creation. Possible beings are beings which do not now exist except in God’s mind. There are possible beings which do not exist now, but existed in the past or will exist in the future. An animal that has died and one not yet born, or, in light of evolution theory, an extinct animal and one not yet evolved, are examples of this kind of possible being. But there are also possible beings which do not exist now, never existed in the past, and will not exist in the future. And so, all things which can exist, all possible beings, do not necessarily exist.
Just as the will of the artist determines which possible artifact he or she will make, so too the will of the Creator determines which possible being will exist at some time and which will never exist at any time. In Aquinas’s terminology, what distinguishes this first kind of possible being from the second is the power and will of God. The Creator is infinitely powerful and therefore can create anything which is conceivable in the divine mind. God is the only being whose essence is being (that should be read BE-ing) and for whom “to know” is “to be.” God knows all things through the divine essence, and all possible beings are contained in the essence of God.
It is the will of God which finally determines the existence or non-existence of a possible being. The will of God determines whether something was, is, or will be; it is not an intrinsic principle in the thing itself which determines that it will at some time be actual. But, and here’s my point with regard to USS Clueless, an intrinsic principle may determine that something can’t exist; for example, a square circle does not exist because it is not a possible being, it is intrinsically contradictory and the mind of the Creator cannot conceive of something that is not intrinsically possible. Now, before you say “Aha!” remember that saying something is not intrinsically possible is simply restating the principle that something can’t be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. It has nothing to do with power or will and everything to do with BE-ing. God can’t be and not be at the same time since God’s essence is “to be” or BE-ing. So too, God can’t do anything that requires that something be (square) and not be (not square) at the same time. And really, saying “square circle” is a sort of rhetorical technique to give the argument some momentum. The truth of the matter is that we’re not really saying anything and aren’t really conceiving of something that’s impossible when we utter “square circle” since that too would require that something both be and not be at the same time in the same respect. You can’t have an idea of square and not have an idea of square at the same time.
So, asking whether God can make a rock He can’t lift is as nonsensical as asking whether God can make a square circle. So too, stating that there are some things that God can’t do is nonsensical (you’ll note I said God can't “conceive of something that is not intrinsically possible” and other like phrases above, but that was to keep the argument moving along; such statements are as nonsensical as “square circle”). Why? Well, such a statement implies that you can conceive of something that God cannot conceive of, which is nonsense. If it’s conceivable in any mind, divine of human, God could create it and that’s why He is omnipotent. When folks say God can’t do ___________, press them a little and you’ll see that the ___________ they’re proposing is nonsensical like “square circle” (that or it’s conceivable and thus God could do it and the statement would be false).
EENIE, MEANIE, MINEY, ME
File13's Amish Tech Support (link via Dave Trowbridge) reports on a sobering experiment he performed with some scissors and his high school yearbook.
UPDATE: It occurred to me that this story is a nice antidote to Eric Hoffer's disturbing statement, "How frighteningly few are the persons whose death would spoil our appetite and make the world seem empty." Anything we can do to bring news of human suffering and death a bit closer, anything that makes us pause or say a prayer for the loss of those we don't know, is probably a very good thing to do.
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT . . . IN A HIGH SCHOOL PAPER
This article in last Sunday's NY Times simply adds to the pile of articles on the Church that you’d only expect to find in a high school paper. Here's the clincher:
Ultimately the church's leaders decided they had to become followers of public opinion in the hopes of regaining their credibility as leaders — a situation attested to by some bishops in their remarks from the floor and in interviews. They took this route because they felt they had no choice. They took it because it was good public relations, and they had spent untold thousands on public relations consultants who were working both behind the scenes and quite publicly at the Dallas conference. They also took it because they wanted their prophetic voice back.As I’ve said before, most of the folks in mainstream media who write on the Catholic Church simply don’t have even a basic understanding of the Catholic Faith in order to place things in context. I don't understand why the NY Times continues to assign unqualified journalists to these kinds of stories. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that a journalist reporting on the Church ought to at least be a believing Catholic, but there is an aspect to the Church that is inaccessible to an unbeliever. This is not because there exists some esoteric nook of knowledge only open to the initiated – the Church isn’t a frat house after all. Rather, it’s because the experience of a believer can’t be shared with an unbeliever. You can’t try on the Catholic Faith to see what it’s like. You either believe or you don’t. And a believer would have a sense of context, a sense of the faith, that would reveal the silliness of comments like “the church's leaders decided they had to become followers of public opinion in the hopes of regaining their credibility as leaders.”
Steve Mattson (link via Amy Welborn) has a nice response to this article. I would want to emphasize, however, that the notion of the sensus fidei is just that, the judgment, perception, or understanding of the faith (“sense” as a translation of “sensus” works, but it can connote “opinion” more than “judgment”) by believers. As Lumen Gentium points out:
The holy People of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office: it spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by a life of faith and love and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips praising his name (cf. Heb. 13:15). The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn. 2:20 and 27) cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when, "from the bishops to the last of the faithful" they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (magisterium), and obeying it, receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God (cf. 1 Th. 2:13), the faith once for all delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3). The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.Notice that sensus fidei assumes believers, people who live a life of faith. This fact is missing in the above account of how “the church's leaders decided they had to become followers of public opinion.” This notion of “public opinion” is not the “the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei),” but rather the opinion of anyone anywhere. While public opinion has its place, one place it’s fairly meaningless is as an indicator of a “universal consent in matters of faith and morals.”
Sunday, June 16, 2002
KEEP PERFECTLY STILL
Is it the rhinoceros who charges when you move? Anyway, I guess I’m a bit anxious about pointing out an error on Nihil Obstat, the self-appointed St. Blog’s proofreader, since I don’t want to draw his or her attention to Minute Particulars and find my posts impaled on the rhino’s grammatical horn. Maybe if I just move slowly . . .
“Nihil Obstat” mentions the following:
Lah Skool Grammer LessunHmm, it seems to me that “than I” in the above sentence is perfectly fine. In fact, using “than me” as “Nihil Obstat” suggests would be considered wrong in many usage guides. As one usage guide comments:
It depends on how you feel about that word "than." Most writers will say that it is introducing a clause (with an understood verb), as in ". . . less privileged than I [am]." Some folks argue that the word than ought to be regarded as a preposition (like "like") and that the word that follows can be in the object form, "me" in this case. Personally, I think you're better off spelling out the clause: "I want to help those less privileged than I am." Without the verb, the "I" sounds stuffy, and too many people would regard the "me" as just plain wrong.Apparently “Nihil Obstat” is not one of the “too many people” who regard “than me” in the above sentence as just plain wrong. Maybe the confusion is from the following two possible sentences:
“He likes proofreading more than I.” (He likes proofreading more than I do)Anyway, with “Nihil Obstat” stomping on solecisms and publicizing the offending posts, I guess I’m going to have to start getting an Imprimatur from my wife whose editing skills are unsurpassed before I post anything.
Saturday, June 15, 2002
THE CREATOR AND HIS SIM-CREATURES
Sgt. Stryker (“Beers Across America”) (link via Dave Trowbridge) has an interesting account of an afternoon playing God:
One game in particular sent me over the edge. I had spent all this time creating a nice little Sim. I gave him a good home. I bought him lots of things to keep him happy. Was he thankful? Oh, hell no. This guy was the whiniest, most demanding blockhead of a Sim I've ever seen.The traditional analogy of how God creates is that of the artist to a work of art. Now we’ve got “The Sims” and the analogy of a game player to his electronic creations. I wonder if the example of playing a computer game will ever end up in a future theological tome?
I think my favorite line from Stryker’s account is this:
Those little bastards infuriate the hell out of me with their damned stupidity, yet I can't stop playing.Surely an apt description of what must occur to God while He ponders His Creation.
Friday, June 14, 2002
AN ATHEIST’S DEATH
I don’t doubt Steve Den Beste's ( USS Clueless) sincerity when he writes:
As an atheist I don't grant any grand overall meaning predetermined for us, since we just happened and weren't designed. Thus we have to make our own goal. And since there's nothing beyond this life, whatever goal we set must be accomplished here.But I’ve never understood the teleological claims of anyone who asserts that upon death the self ceases to be. By teleological claims I mean using terms like happiness, goal, must be accomplished, and so on. In other words, any claim that implies significance beyond my physical existence in this life. If upon my death there will be absolutely nothing persisting that is “me,” then nothing I do can really matter. Yes, I’ll have friends and loved ones who live on, and this blog will perdure until Blogspot deletes it, but none of that is “me” in the sense that it can still matter to “me.” And loved ones and friends are in the same boat of having nothing of them remain after death so why would my legacy matter to them?
Now Steve might say, “Well, it matters that I made the world better or helped others.” And he hints at why it matters here:
But perhaps that's because I see myself primarily as part of something larger: my community, my nation, my species. I'm a team player. I'm here to contribute to the overall good. As an engineer I've helped advance the state of the art, and I believe that my contribution was positive. And as a person, I've always tried to be honest and kind to those around me if I could.But I'd reply that the world you made better and those whom you helped will all disappear as well into the dark void of nothingness, so how can it really matter? If an “I” doesn’t persist, perdure, remain in some way, then nothing matters.
Now, that’s not a reason to suddenly shift gears and believe in an afterlife or some kind of persistence of self beyond death. In fact, that would be a silly response because unless you really believed it you’d know on some level you were kidding yourself. I’m not suggesting that “then nothing matters” has a place in an argument for the immortality of the human person. I’m just saying that I don’t understand how anything really matters to someone making claims like Steve above. Sure there’s the “Golden Rule” where we should treat others in a manner that we would want to be treated and we could argue that this keeps society in check and makes it possible to live a safe though meaningless life. But still, why would it matter that the world were somewhat civilized rather than what we find in Mad Max?
This concern that without eternal consequences “nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful” was presented famously in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:
. . .[Ivan] solemnly declared in argument that there was nothing in the whole world to make men love their neighbours. That there was no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that, if there had been any love on earth hitherto, it was not owing to a natural law, but simply because men have believed in immortality. Ivan Fyodorovitch added in parenthesis that the whole natural law lies in that faith, and that if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism. That's not all. He ended by asserting that for every individual, like ourselves, who does not believe in God or immortality, the moral law of nature must immediately be changed into the exact contrary of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to crime, must become not only lawful but even recognised as the inevitable, the most rational, even honourable outcome of his position.Again, this would be a poor argument for immortality and I’m not suggesting that it’s compelling. But it does present the question I have for someone who holds that there is no strand to each of us that stretches through eternity: Why would anything ever matter? My contention is not that you have to believe in immortality and eternal consequences – if it were I would argue quite differently. My contention is that any suggestion that there are any consequences to any action requires a persistence of the one acting and those acted upon if the consequences are to have any meaning.
Thursday, June 13, 2002
BLOGGING AND UNMARKED, UNVISITED GRAVES
Jeff Jarvis (link via Tres Producers) has some sound thoughts on weblogs and the “I-was-doing-this-long-before-you” folks. He’s responding to this article from the NY Times.
To survive and succeed, weblogs must be embraced by many, many interests and their communities. I've seen some good food blogs. We need more entertainment blogs. I can't believe there aren't many more sports blogs, from pro all the way down to Little League. I hope to see local blogs and ethnic blogs and, of course, biz blogs.Probably too melodramatic for this discussion, but Eric Hoffer, in his Reflections on the Human Condition wrote:
It would be difficult to exaggerate the degree to which anonymous examples triggered creative outbursts or were the seed of new styles in the fields of action, thought, and imagination . . . . many who have shaped history are buried in unmarked and unvisited graves.Are there “major bloggers” as there are “major” poets, journalists, novelists, etc.? Auden has some useful advice regarding poets that might help:
One cannot say that a major poet writes better poems than a minor; on the contrary the chances are that, in the course of his lifetime, the major poet will write more bad poems than the minor.... To qualify as major, a poet, it seems to me, must satisfy about three and a half of the following five conditions.Surely there are bloggers who “write a lot.” But how about “a wide range in subject matter and treatment”? Or “unmistakable originality of vision and style”? A “master of” blog technique? And what about those early archives or “juvenilia”? Okay, maybe determining “major bloggers” beyond the daily unique-visitors criterion is a bit much. But there sure seems to be a lot of blog-ink spilled (and this post just adds to the puddle!) on bloggers, blogging, and the impact blogs have on society. I suppose the blog phenomenon is like any new form of expression: it inevitably has a self-referential phase that eventually spins off into various schools of criticism. Can we expect the term “blogature” or its equivalent? Will there eventually be “blogature” schools of thought like: Blog Structuralism, Blog Poststructuralism, Blogger-Response Theory, Blog Deconstruction, Psychoanalytic Blog Theory, etc.? Such exciting times we live in!1. He must write a lot.
THE WAY I HEARD IT, THE KING SIMPLY HAD THE WISE MAN EXECUTED
Lots of responses to the 35 TRILLION post below. Mark Shea emailed about how a history professor had to point out that if an account of the number of people slaughtered during the Inquisition were true, it would have meant that the entire population of Europe was eliminated . . . and that the murderers would then have had to eliminate themselves! I got several links from folks rejoicing that “another gun statistic was shown to be flawed,” and someone mentioned the “King’s Chessboard” story. The math involved is identical. As one children’s book about the story explains:
Once, long ago, in what is now India, there lived a wise man who performed a service for the King of Deccan. In due course the King summoned the wise man to appear before him.Of course, the point is that the final number of grains of rice, 2 X 2 X 2 . . . (64 times), would exceed all the rice in the world. In the children’s book, the King gets angry about being tricked by the wise man, but the story ends with the King having learned a lesson and the wise man making a point about rash promises. The version I heard ends a bit more abruptly when the King simply has the wise man executed for making him look foolish . . . probably a more accurate rendering of the story if it ever happened.
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
HMM . . . SOMETHING'S MISSING
Veni Sancte Spiritus has this poll:
What do you think is the primary cause of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church?Where's "It is the result of the ability of every human being to sin, to commit evil acts, to harm another"? Where's "It’s a failure of a purity of heart and a deep inability to recognize the dignity of another human being"?
35 TRILLION CHILDREN GUNNED DOWN IN 1995?
I was poking around on Google for information on statistics gone awry for something I’m working on when I came across this gem mentioned here: "Every year since 1950, the number of American children gunned down has doubled." The author of the book, Damned Lies and Statistics cites this as “the worst social statistic ever.” Why? Well, he did the math and discovered that in 1995, when the statement was made, there would have been 35 trillion children gunned down if the statistic were correct. You should read the whole introduction at the link above. It’s quite interesting.
Monday, June 10, 2002
HIGH SCHOOL JOURNALISM AT THE VATICAN
What magazines like TIME or Newsweek or People have to say is often important because their readership is so high, not because they offer valuable reporting and interpretation of events around the world.
This article (via Amy Welborn), “The Man Behind the Pope: With the Pontiff ailing, his secretary gains power,” in TIME last week probably has as much insight into the Pope’s thinking and daily routine as a high school paper might offer on some important, complex, and mature subject. The metaphor doesn’t quite work, but picture a high school journalist at a political convention and you’ll get my point. I really mean this. Most of the folks in mainstream media who write on the Catholic Church and the pope don’t have even a basic understanding of the Catholic Faith in order to place things in context.
I don’t fault anyone for responding to these articles or wondering if there’s any truth to them since, like I said, so many read this stuff that it’s good to know what for many may be their only glimpse of papal thinking and policies.
Either the pope is the Vicar of Christ or he is not. Either he still knows what he is doing or he does not. To the first point, if you deny that he is the Successor to Peter, then, well everything is up for grabs. If you deny that he still knows what he’s doing then I’d ask: How do you know this? When someone writes, as in the above TIME article, that:
“The Cardinals just bring him papers and say, 'Sign this,'” is how one Vatican insider describes the Pope's daily activity.How are we to understand this? This is a strange thing to write and of course it’s attributed to “one Vatican insider.” But I don’t object to the condescension such a statement is dripping in so much as the implication that we would recognize how the Holy Spirit is working in the pope’s decisions.
The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes . . . ." (John 3:8)Only someone ignorant of Church teaching could think such a statement about John Paul II would be worth printing.
And now I see that Andrew Sullivan is going to be doing the next TIME installment on the Church:
“and tomorrow [Tuesday] you'll find my new Time magazine essay on the Church's current crisis - which I argue is merely a symptom of a deeper one.”Let me predict what he’ll say in blog ink a day before the essay comes out. He’ll say that the Church is oppressive and cramped and cold and wrong in its teaching about any aspect of the human being that touches on sexuality. He’ll say that reform is needed and that the reformers are those on the margins who’ve been waiting for a chance to make their move. Will the essay be insightful? I predict not. Will it capture any outlines of what the Church teaches? I predict not. Will it say that we need a kinder, gentler Church? Probably so. Will it reflect a complete ignorance of Church teaching and the wealth of insight in John Paul II’s many encyclicals? I fear it will. I hope I’m wrong. I’ll watch for the essay and link to it when it comes out.
Sunday, June 09, 2002
THE LIFE SO SHORT, THE CRAFT SO LONG TO LEARN
Dave Trowbridge sent me a link to view the XBox commercial, “Life is short, Play more,” that never made it to the airwaves. It’s actually pretty intriguing. I’m not sure why it was prevented from airing. There’s a somewhat graphic birth scene, but the violence is of the Wile E. Coyote flavor that seems harmless enough. According to this article,
The Independent Television Commission (ITC) said it had received 136 complaints about the advert from viewers who found it "offensive, shocking and in bad taste".I like the bit about how a "reminder that life is short" might be "shocking." Here’s Dave’s post about it. He suggests “Life is short, Pray more” might be a better slogan.
HAD WE BUT WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME
I forgot to post this last week. It’s an interview with Evolution Theorist Stephen Jay Gould. It’s a bit eerie since it's one of the last interviews he gave before his death on May 21. I thought this was particularly sad
Now that you will have more free time, do you have big projects you plan to take on?It’s sad to see such grand plans come to an end. I found reading the interview sobering; in the context of Gould’s death, the interview has a carpe diem quality to it that ought to give all of us pause. I saw Gould give a talk last fall and he was entertaining, smart, and appeared perfectly healthy. Shortly after his death, I posted the text (I couldn’t find a link to it anymore) of a column he wrote about 9/11. It’s interesting that in that column and in the above interview he quotes Scripture. While often accused of being anti-religion, I think Gould had a very good idea of the distinction between science and religion and seems to have had enormous respect for the wisdom found in the Bible.
Thursday, June 06, 2002
SEEING IS BELIEVING
There’s a nice column over at View from the Core on the increasing sophistication of computer-generated imagery.
While it wasn’t quite the point of Lane’s column, his thoughts reminded me of Newman’s statement “Faith, then, must necessarily be resolvable at last into sight and reason; unless, indeed, we agree with enthusiasts,” a statement I quoted in an earlier post I called FAITH REQUIRES A 'KNOWER'. Click on over to it if you’re interested in the connection that I think is there. I’ll need to think about it some more before taking a stab at it.
SOFTENING OF THE BRAIN
Here's a taste of the latest on GKC's Blog
He suffers, in the literal sense, from softening of the brain; he has softened it by always taking the view of everything most comfortable for his country, his class, and his private personality. He is a deadly public danger.
Tuesday, June 04, 2002
150 YEARS TOO LATE?
If you’ve been following the discussion on Geocentrism over on Mark Shea’s blog, you’ll know that the latest proposal for the $1,000 prize for definitively proving that the earth rotates is this nifty bit of thinking. It’s quite ingenious. However, those who have proposed the Prove Geocentrism Challenge are now crying “foul!” and saying that NASA’s computers are generating the satellite paths and such virtual depictions don’t represent what is really going on.
Now, I haven’t been following the discussion boards where the offer and various solutions are posted, but hasn’t the 1851 demonstration known as The Foucault Pendulum proved definitively and with just a lead weight and some string that the Earth rotates? Here’s the explanation:
The Foucault Pendulum was invented by French physicist, Jean Bernard Foucault (pronounced foo-ko) in 1851 in Paris and was demonstrated for the first time at the world's fair in the Pantheon in Paris.Isn’t this more direct than satellite paths and yet exactly the same idea?
the orbit of the satellites :: their apparent path on the groundI’m sure someone has mentioned this in this debate, but just in case, make that $1,000 check out to “M-I-N-U-T-E P-A-R-T-I-C-U-L-A-R-S.”
“AN ICE-AXE TO BREAK THE SEA FROZEN INSIDE US”
This article in from the NY Times has rightly gotten folks worked up into a blog lather (blather!?). It describes the disturbing discovery that upon inspection of some English exams given to NY high school students,
the vast majority of the passages - drawn from the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anton Chekhov and William Maxwell, among others - had been sanitized of virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason.The problem, of course, is that this kind of thing strikes at the very core of why literature is important. Sanitizing literature eliminates the very thing we treasure about it, that it can “wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull” as Franz Kafka mentions here:
If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why read it? So that it shall make us happy? Good God, we should also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make up happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come upon us like ill fortune, and distress us deeply . . . . A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.“Like ill fortune” and “distress us deeply” might seem a bit too pessimistic as descriptions of how literature moves us; and don’t we read books to make us happy? Well, yes. But I think Kafka’s point, and the reason sanitizing texts is so insidious, is that the happiness we get from literature derives from its ability to strike us to the core. Surely happiness is what we strive for, but that happiness is superficial and fragile if it’s built upon warm and comfy notions. True happiness often arises from our encounter with those things which really do have the power to “distress us deeply.”
"THE WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE"
GKC’s Blog has a nice entry on how our conception of the human being prevents abuses of human dignity. Here’s a fragment:
. . . it is enough to say that unless we have some doctrine of a divine man, all abuses may be excused, since evolution may turn them into uses. It will be easy for the scientific plutocrat to maintain that humanity will adapt itself to any conditions which we now consider evil.One reason it’s so important that we constantly examine our culture and what it proposes about human beings is that cultural conceptions are often at the heart of abuses that go unnoticed. The reason Church Teaching can seem so “countercultural” is that it is grounded upon truths which do not twist and turn with the ever changing cultural norms of human society. In the Vatican II document,Gaudium et Spes, we find the following
. . . the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.It is a call to engage contemporary culture, the “world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics” with vigor and intelligence, and, as the title of the document indicates, with joy and hope.
BACK FROM THE BREACH (see previous post)
As I'm fond of saying, "Any jackass can kick down a barn; it takes a skilled carpenter to build it." And so, I hope my concerns about the tactic of photographing women as they enter clinics don’t appear to be simply kicking down a response to an urgent and gut-wrenching issue. My intent was to point out that we need to build a response carefully or else we'll end up having the same moral force as those who claim that abortion in not wrong. Yes, a response is needed now and the urgency can't be overemphasized. But while the response can be inspired by our faith, it has to be built on reason if we want civilized debate and corresponding laws. As Aquinas points out in his famous section on law:
Law is a rule and measure of acts, whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting: for "lex" [law] is derived from "ligare" [to bind], because it binds one to act. Now the rule and measure of human acts is the reason, which is the first principle of human acts . . . . Consequently it follows that law is something pertaining to reason.The means of our response has to be grounded in the very truths we're trying to protect, the truth that every human being is sacred from conception to death, the truth that the greatest natural good of a human being is life, the truth that human life must be affirmed and protected.
Saturday, June 01, 2002
HEH, HEH . . . HMM . . .
Communications From Elsewhere was listed as National Review’s “Cool Site” a few days ago. What would YOU do if this happened? Maybe spruce up your blog a bit and pull out that killer post you’ve been saving for the right moment? After all, an NRO “Cool Site” link would probably get you quite a few visitors. So what did “Communications from Elsewhere" do? As they describe it here,
I noticed just now that the National Review's web site has the Postmodernism Generator listed as their "cool site of the day". I have nothing against conservative magazines, as such, but this presents a golden opportunity for me.Funny indeed. Curious, though, that they would rather play a prank on potential visitors and send them away rather than let them click around a bit. As for myself, while I suppose it would be fun to send folks to . . . well what would the contrary to “Minute Particulars” be? . . . maybe “Huge Generalities”? . . . anyway, I suppose I’d rather have them visit then send them off to some unexpected site. Unless you really want an inTRAnet presence like many corporations have behind a firewall, isn’t one of the points of a website or blog public exposure? Nothing is stopping anyone from keeping a private journal. If you’re blogging and your blog is on the Internet, don’t you kinda expect readers?
Friday, May 31, 2002
“ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH, DEAR FRIENDS, ONCE MORE” *
I suppose it’s appropriate on the Feast of the Visitation to touch again upon the central role that recognizing another person must have in any debate on abortion:
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.This scriptural reference to various levels of recognition is a powerful testimony to the Church's concerns for the sanctity of a human being from conception to death.
Thanks to Greg Popcak’s gracious response and prompting, I've decided to take another swing at articulating my concerns about the appropriateness of folks taking photos of women entering clinics that provide abortions and then posting these photos on the Internet. I wondered if such an action distorts the dynamic involved in our concern for the unborn in the first place. The dynamic? The manner in which we recognize another person. Here's my earlier post that Greg responded to.
Greg’s points about the moral gravity of abortion are obviously relevant in the abortion debate, but he seems to have missed the crux of my concern – and I attribute this to my clumsy presentation (like wearing fuzzy gloves while trying to work on a fine jeweled watch) not an inability on his part to follow.
As I said before, “Taking a picture of someone entering a clinic and then publishing it on a site are acts that make explicit presumptions about a person based on probability and circumstance.” What are these “explicit presumptions”?
1) The person photographed and displayed on the Internet entering a particular clinic is probably going to have an abortion.There are two problems here. First, while all of these presumptions might very well be true, there’s always going to be a “probably” since we’re inferring things about a person we can’t know for certain apart from a relationship with and attentive concern for that person. The presumptions are all probable because they’re formed in the sterile air of abstraction. Someone in the distance enters a clinic, we snap a photo, we place the photo on the Internet and imply that they have done something terrible. That’s why “probably” is as close as we’re going to get when attempting to assess these actions in this manner. And what about presuming someone has committed a grave evil? Isn’t that what’s implied in the publication of someone’s photo in this manner? What if we’re mistaken?
You might say that any deterrent is worth trying. But I wonder? Most reasonable people would agree that how you respond to evil deeds matters quite a bit. At the very least, your response should not stem from the same distorted understanding of truth the person you’re responding to holds. And this is the other and more essential concern I have with this tactic.
Taking pictures and then displaying them with an implied presumption of what the person pictured has done and who they are is a parody of how we actually recognize another person. We recognize another person in the concrete particulars that arise within a relationship with that person. We mock this ability when we insist that we “know” someone by abstractions and apart from relationship to him or her. And here’s the clincher . . . this is exactly what those who have no compunctions about abortion are doing.
Ironically, it’s this parody of our recognizing another person that is the dynamic of those who claim that “a clump of cells, or a two-week embryo, or a two-month fetus is not a person.” Don't those who refuse to recognize the sanctity of the human person from conception onward make the same arguments and appeals to probability as those who take pictures at clinics? I think they do.
Take a fertilized human egg shortly after conception and no bigger than the dot on this “i.” Don’t those who claim this is not a human person say something like this?:
1) The “dot” of cells is probably not a personThese presumptions are all probable because they too are formed in the sterile air of abstraction. Someone looks through a microscope at the “dot” of cells, snaps a photo, places it on a website with the term “blastocyst” under it, and then, and I’ve seen this on many pro-cloning sites, states that it’s [probably] not a human person (most folks who would do this wouldn’t say “probably,” but it’s implied in the science they appeal to).
If we claim to respect human life from conception to death, we do this because we acknowledge the dignity of the human person. And whether we acknowledge this by reason or by faith (or both in the Catholic Tradition), surely recognizing another person becomes a paramount concern. As the Church teaches in Evangelium Vitae:
. . . human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations . . .And if the manner in which we recognize a human person is trivialized or, in the case of photographing persons entering a clinic, parodied, then we risk becoming blind to the very thing we’re trying to protect. Again, from Evangelium Vitae:
If charity is to be realistic and effective, it demands that the Gospel of life be implemented also by means of certain forms of social activity and commitment in the political field, as a way of defending and promoting the value of life in our ever more complex and pluralistic societies. Individuals, families, groups and associations, albeit for different reasons and in different ways, all have a responsibility for shaping society and developing cultural, economic, political and legislative projects which, with respect for all and in keeping with democratic principles, will contribute to the building of a society in which the dignity of each person is recognized and protected and the lives of all are defended and enhanced. (my emphasis)When I act toward a pregnant woman in a manner which does not recognize her as a person, when my relationship is one of conjecture, probability, and presumption, even if my action is animated by concern for a person within her, aren’t my concerns for the child drained of any real weight?
Indeed we all “have a responsibility for shaping society and developing cultural, economic, political and legislative projects” which foster respect for human life and each person. But that responsibility is grounded on a foundation of truth that must be applied to all persons from conception to death. If you’re selective here, then are you really acting in a manner that is different from those are selective about granting the rights of a person to the unborn?
BEING A BORE AND BEING BORED . . .
. . . on GKC' Blog today.
NOW THIS LOOKS LIKE FUN
Though, you’d better be sure the kids in your neighborhood don’t have a BB gun handy when you float over. Here’s the full site (link via InstaPundit).
FIDES ET RATIO
There are some nice posts on the encyclical Fides et Ratio over on Disputations.
I came upon this essay by David Braine (what a great name for a philosopher!) a few years ago and found it very useful in trying to understand the depth and scope of Fides et Ratio. Braine starts with:
The Encyclical Fides et ratio sees the desire for the fundamental truth about oneself, one's roots and one's goal, and about the world and its wonder, as the ground of the desire for wisdom, in response to which faith and reason cooperatively contribute. Faithful to the tradition of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the Pope traces the development of this cooperation between faith and reason from Romans: 1, through Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Augustine, into medieval times in which St Anselm and St Thomas appear as the supreme exemplars of how one should approach and do philosophy (nn. 36-48). Later, in n. 74, he exhibits the great width of his conception of philosophers or contributors to this wisdom.He does a nice job placing the “great width of” the pope’s “conception of philosophers” in perspective.
Thursday, May 30, 2002
IF YOU'VE GOT SOME TIME AND DON'T MIND LIGHT BLUE TEXT ON A DARK BLUE BACKGROUND
This blog post, er it’s about 4 feet of scrolling so maybe “article” is more accurate, is quite a feat of historical and theological acumen on the Women's Ordination issue (link via Cranky Professor who’s pulled out some highlights here). If you’re comfortable with the Church’s position on restricting the Sacrament of Ordination to men, it will snuff out any embers of doubt. If you’re uncomfortable with the Church’s position, well . . . you’re in for a rough ride. I did think, however, that Old Oligarch might have been using a sledgehammer where a light tack hammer might have sufficed in his discussion of how our culture resists subordination and gender distinctions (I won’t quote because it’ll be way out of context and you’ll likely dismiss it without getting the proper context).
Update:The permalink to the above Old Oligarch article doesn't seem to be working so you may need to scroll down. The post I mention is "The Ordination of Women" posted "5/30/2002 05:19:48 AM"
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
PHOTOGRAPHS AND OUR ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE A PERSON
This article on the new tactic of taking pictures of women apparently seeking abortions might seem smart. Eugene Volokh has a nice discussion of the legal implications here (link via Relapsed Catholic); but I wonder if, apart from the legal issues, there’s a problem with this tactic that involves the denial of a bedrock dynamic in any concern for human life and dignity. The dynamic? Our ability to recognize a person.
Taking a picture of someone entering a clinic and then publishing it on a site are acts that make explicit presumptions about a person based on probability and circumstance. And isn’t this precisely how we don’t recognize another person? Isn’t this also exactly what someone who claims that a clump of cells, or a two-week embryo, or a two-month fetus is not a person does? Aren’t abstractions like “it’s no bigger than the dot on an ‘i’” or “it’s not able to feel” or “it’s only potentially a human person” the very thing that the pro-life adherents object to? In other words, treasuring human life, human dignity, and the human person can’t be done selectively unless you wish to empty those words and sentiments of all meaning. I wonder if this kind of tactic amounts to a refusal to recognize another human person by making a caricature of how it is that we apprehend another person. And I wonder too if this defeats the cause of those who seek to reverence all persons from conception to death.
Gregory Popcak notes:
Scripture says, "What you do in the dark you must speak in the light." Polite society wants to allow abortion as long as we don't have to look at it. A woman wants to have the right to an abortion, she just doesn't want to have to admit that she had it. Why? It seems to me that if we are going to sin, at least we should have the courage to sin bravely, and if we don't think it is a sin, then why not face the camera proudly?But I think he doesn’t adequately distinguish “dark” and “light,” “private” and “public,” or the nature of sin in these comments. I know he’s trying to tie things together rhetorically, but the notion that one can have “the courage to sin bravely” conflates virtue and vice into a tangle that’s tough to pull apart again. And the idea that anyone should not do in private what they wouldn’t do in public is a bit of an oversimplification. There are lots of noble acts we do that are private and meant to be (e.g. consummation of marriage, discourse among close friends, parents discussing things that children shouldn’t hear, etc.)
Of course, a few blog posts aren’t going to slice through this tough issue; but I still think we need to be careful about how we respond to these urgent issues and keep our actions in line with those very truths we’re trying to uphold. When we discuss or act on issues that touch on the protection of human life, the respect for human dignity, and the solicitude for the human person, we shouldn’t just fling the doors of debate and action into wide open simplicity. Our ability to recognize another human being is difficult to describe. Yet it’s the rock-ribbed fact of all authentic concerns about the sanctity of every human being. Our approach to these issues will be no less difficult to define and adhere to. And if our approach doesn’t at least respect the mysterious manner in which we apprehend another human person, if our approach distorts this or makes a parody of it, aren’t we going to end up lost in contradictions and blind to the persons involved?
Tuesday, May 28, 2002
A BLOG WITH A VIEW
Make room in the bloghouse. E. L. Core's The View from the Core now has a blog, and a fine one at that.
QUOTIDIAN QUOTE (QQ Archives)
It were certainly to be wished that some expedient were fallen upon to reconcile philosophy and common sense, which . . . have waged most cruel wars with each other.
RASH VOWS AND THE IMAGINATION . . .
. . . over on GKC’s Blog today. Here’s a bit of it:
The one hell which imagination must conceive as most hellish is to be eternally acting a play without even the narrowest and dirtiest greenroom in which to be human.
So, we picked up one of these activity saucers for Dominic the other day. You plop him in it and he can spin around and play with all of the attached toys. He seems to like it. Of course, he focuses on the one attachment that makes me nervous, a curved metal rod with beads on it. It’s pretty secure, but I might remove it just to be safe.
You might be amazed at some of the warnings in the saucer’s manual; here’s a partial list:
NEVER use near stairs.“NEVER use as a sled?!?!” I suppose they have to cover themselves for legal reasons, but what parent would stick a child in this and shove him down a snow covered hill? Probably the one letting the baby roast marshmallows in the fireplace.
Monday, May 27, 2002
ORGANIZING A LIST OF BLOGS
You may have noticed that my “PRO” designation for some bloggers is gone and they’ve joined the “IL MIGLIOR FABBRO” list.
My response to Jonah Goldberg’s “Attack of the blogs” column got me thinking and then Richard Bennett’s claim that the “practice of separating links to ‘pro’ journalists from ‘merely amateur’ bloggers” is snobbery pushed me to eliminate the label.
The list used to represent the order in which I’d come across blogs, a sort of journal of discovery. Now it’s just a mess and I suppose I ought to alphabetize it. Or maybe I should categorize them according to Borges’ Animals? (link via Eve Tushnet)
Borges’ AnimalsHmm . . . this could be fun!
HORSE AND SPARROW
Jonah Goldberg’s "Attack of the blogs" column struck me as somewhat elitist. Maybe that’s inevitable. If you’re a successful blogger (The Corner he contributes to and his Goldberg File have zillions of readers) perhaps negative comments about blogging and bloggers are going to sound condescending at worst and patronizing at best. While I loved his image of journalists and bloggers:
The New York Times has reporters in Kinshasa, Moscow and Baghdad; the bloggers spend their days discussing what those reporters report. It's horse-and-sparrow journalism. The horse blazes the trail and eats the hay. The sparrows feed on what the horse leaves behind in steamy piles on the road.It’s just plain wrong. It assumes that the only significant aspect of journalism is getting to the events as they occur and reporting them. That’s the essential first step in marking the tabula rasa that opinions then congregate around. But it’s the interpretation of events that is the next step and where the mainstream media horse is not so adept. This interpretive function of journalism is the reason why mainstream media has so many pundits and why personalities (the horse’s ass in some cases?) seem so disproportionately important. Isn’t this, in fact, Jonah’s raison d’être or at least raison de . . . whatever the French is for “writing columns”? He’s a sparrow just like the bloggers he disparages. Sure his chirp is clear, witty, and informed, but it’s still a chirp among the cacophony of bird calls.
When we say “mainstream media” after all, we’re signifying a group of individuals, not some monolith of automatons. The “monolithic” appearance stems from the organizing principle of the group of individual journalists: conservative, progressive, liberal, republican, democrat, Catholic, Jewish, etc. But, as again Jonah must know when he cashes his paychecks from his many gigs, people want the interpretive sparrow to chirp about what the horse poops; if they wanted news straight from the horse’s . . . uh, I better say “mouth” here, they wouldn't read a columnist.
Jonah’s classroom analogy:
Imagine a bunch of students in large classroom. If one student rises up and shouts his disagreement with the professor, that's lively and interesting. But if 50 students do the same thing, it's just noise. And, besides, there's a reason most students are paying to hear what the professor thinks, not what their fellow students have to say.works on some levels. The only difference in theory between an amateur blogger and a pro is a paycheck and so the student-professor image sort of works. But Jonah swerves into the elitist notion that professors will typically have more interesting opinions than their students. And that’s patently false.
A professor like Prof. Glenn Reynolds surely knows more about law than his students, but his blog opinions are not necessarily related to his expertise in law; I’d suggest that that’s why he’s been so successful. Instapundit is not InstaLawyer (which is still available!). It’s a portal with commentary on many diverse topics. But the classroom image limps further because, as Glenn points out here: “ . . . I think Jonah expects revolutions to be noisy, loud and destructive.” He then continues with:
The Blogosphere Revolution, if there is one, will be far more subtle and will take things over so insidiously people won't know the difference at first. Gradually establishment journalists like Eric Alterman or Chris Matthews will start blogging, staid publications like the National Review will get blogs, publications and big-media websites like Fox or Slate will start to incorporate bloggers into their regular content, well-known journalists will tout their latest columns to bloggers and respond angrily to attacks from the blogosphere. . . .So, while Jonah’s descriptions of journalists and bloggers have some truth to them, he seems to be missing the more important aspects of what makes blogs something “new.” It’s not the content, but the availability of the content that is “new.” Just about anyone with an Internet connection can make their thoughts available with a blog, an online column or magazine, or even an entire book. Will it be any good? Probably not. But it could be. And that should concern the horses.
Sunday, May 26, 2002
TWO SEPTEMBER DAYS – 100 YEARS APART
Ever since I heard of the death of Stephen Jay Gould I’ve been trying to find a column he wrote about the events of 9/11. I’ve been unable to find a link to the original that appeared, I think, in the Boston Globe. So, here’s the text of it. It seems an appropriate tribute to him and to the tragic events last September during this Memorial Day weekend:
Two September Days - 100 Years Apart
AN “R-RATED” POST
There’s a nice reflection on “God and Marriage” over at Summa Contra Mundum today.
A GOOD ARGUMENT IS HARD TO FIND
Here’s a great explanation of logical fallacies (link via View from the Core’s E. L. Core who has this nice collection of sundry links). How many logical fallacies can you spot in today’s paper, some of your favorite blogs, or a book you’re reading? How many apply to arguments on today’s hot topics? I’ve noticed lots of fallacies of the “Appeals to Motives in Place of Support”, “Attacking the Person”, and “Hasty Generalization” variety in many of the issues that bloggers are buzzing about.
Of course, giving fancy labels to ill-conceived arguments is not the point. Rather, getting into the habit of spotting fallacies is. And I use “habit” deliberately. We are inundated with so much information, so many opinions, so many rhetorical flourishes of persuasion that it can seem like reason is just some sterile and esoteric technique that you can take or leave. But the ability to move from one certainty to another is how rational creatures operate. Getting into the “habit” of reasoning well is noble not because we’ll be able to kick down the poorly constructed arguments all around us, but because it’s how we arrive at those truths which are not immediately evident.
We all know those truths that are self evident. Here’s a partial list from L. M. Régis’ Epistemology:
1) A thing either is or is not.As Régis explains, these are “judgements whose necessity and evidence is universal, that is, common to every human being by virtue of the very nature of his intellect.”
It’s interesting that these “most evident” and “universal” judgments are also the least interesting to us. In fact, they really have no meaning for us as human beings until we apply them to the world. And this is the work of reason. Applying these immediately evident truths to the world is how we extend the number of judgments that we are certain of.