"...minute and particular." -- Enormous Generalities
Friday, June 28, 2002
FLANNERY O'CONNOR'S MODEST LITERARY VISION
Here’s (link via Relapsed Catholic) an interesting article on Flannery O’Connor. The author explains:
My own approach to questions of O’Connor’s religious faith and its influence on her writing attempts a kind of mediation between the bodies of religious and secular criticism that have accumulated in response to her work. The danger of any straightforward religious reading lies in its tendency to reduce O’Connor’s literature to a mere cipher for Christian dogma, at the expense of any other pertinent insight. Secular criticism likewise flirts with the danger of cutting itself off from the religious presence that clearly must be kept in mind when considering a writer with O’Connor’s background.Even if you don’t quite agree with some of the points, the essay contains enough quotes and anecdotes to make it worth reading.
WHAT IS THIS QUINTESSENCE OF DUST?
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!I didn’t want to add another post to the blog buzz around the therapeutic cloning issue, but I just noticed this link on InstaPundit. I’ve been especially struck with the breezy treatment that defining a human being often gets in the recent cloning debates. Notice Ronald Bailey’s (from the above link) definition of a human being:
But what makes us human are our brains from which our hopes, our plans, our moral choices and our consciousnesses arise. Blastocysts do not have nerve cells much less brains. Also ponder the fact that perhaps half of all blastocysts produced via conventional conception fail to implant in a womb and we do not consider them to be children to be either medically rescued or mourned.Now, forget about his attempt to lump abortive contraception (e.g. IUDs), which he calls “conventional contraception,” in with all contraception, and focus on his notion of a human being. He claims that it’s “our brains from which our hopes, our plans, our moral choices and our consciousnesses arise” (boy that word “consciousnesses” looks funny, but that’s the plural – say it fast three times!). And this, of course, is pure materialism which, no matter how you slice it, will always come up short in describing the human being.
There are lots of ways to rebut this and a post in a little ol’ blog is probably not the best place to attempt it thoroughly. Aquinas, following Aristotle, writes
The human soul is said to be on the horizon and boundry line between things corporeal and incorporeal, inasmuch as it is an incorporeal substance and at the same time the form of a body.SCG 2.68It’s the fact that the substantial form of the human being, that which makes us “human” rather than “horse” or “geranium” or “granite,” is an incorporeal substance, a thing that can exist without requiring a body, that makes all the difference. In another place, Aquinas counters the materialist notion that the soul does not survive the corruption of the body (remember that some materialists admit the existence of a “soul” as the principle of life; what they resist is that anything might “subsist” after the living thing dies) by stating:
Therefore the intellectual principle which we call the mind or the intellect has an operation "per se" apart from the body. Now only that which subsists can have an operation "per se." . . . We must conclude, therefore, that the human soul, which is called the intellect or the mind, is something incorporeal and subsistent.ST 1.75.2Human understanding per se is an operation that does not require a body – however, a body is required if we want to have something to think about, i.e. “grist for the mill,” which is provided by the senses.
The challenge then to those who define a human being in materialistic terms (e.g. to be a human being you have to have ____ cells, or _____ neurons, or _____ organs, etc.) is simply that you can never determine when the human soul, the subsistent incorporeal form, is present at the extremes of human life. The Catholic Church, informed by faith, teaches that the human soul is present at conception since it holds that a human being is present at conception; and you can’t be a human being unless you have a human soul. And I think you can even propose a pretty good philosophical argument, an argument solely based on principles of reason, that the human soul is present at conception – yes, I know that Aquinas claimed that it wasn’t present until “quickening,” the first discernible movement of the fetus, but he didn’t know about organizing principles like DNA which are present from conception.; and something has to organize the organizing principles of life and that is what we call the soul, the first principle of life. But the cleverness and subtlety of such arguments really aren’t the point.
The point is that no one can say for certain that the human soul is not present at conception and therefore no one should be acting in a manner that assumes such certitude. The glibness with which some of the “pro-cloning” folks treat the definition of a human being is irrational. It is against reason. If one cannot be certain that a human being is not present where it might be, e.g. a blastocyst, then one cannot act as if there were no doubt involved in the rightness of any action which destroys a potential human being. And notice I say “where it might be” in the previous statement. No one is suggesting that an unfertilized egg is a human being. Why? Because we understand that unfertilized eggs don’t suddenly start dividing and developing into a human being. Only fertilized (the old fashioned way or by artificial means as in parthenogenesis or transplanting the nucleus) eggs are potentially, if not already, human beings.
I sometimes wonder if those who are so cavalier about handling fertilized human eggs are thinking to themselves, “And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me.”
Thursday, June 27, 2002
COME HOLY LAWSUIT
Veni Sancte Spiritus is getting serious about Nihil Obstat’s proofreading. Nihil Obstat mentions Fair Use law. Tensions mount.
Me? I don’t think I’ve made it into a Nihil Obstat post yet. But Minute Particulars has always had the policy: Any Traffic Is Good Traffic. In fact, just for fun, I like to purposely split infinitives, in slip a solecism, and makes an agreement error in my posts just to see if Nihil Obstat will bite at the flashing ungrammatical lure. If everyone made this claim, Nihil Obstat would be out of business and my little ploy wouldn’t work. So I’m happy to see that folks are still getting bent out of shape by the nefarious Nihil Obstat.
AND THE ROCKETS' RED GLARE, THE PANDAS BURSTING IN AIR
Old Oligarch’s cranked up the posting. Here’s a beauty about the pandas at the National Zoo.
I've got a better idea. Why not shove a rocket up the hindquarters of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang and blow them up for the 4th of July? A triple independence day: From Britain, from China, and from ridiculous American obsessions.
Wednesday, June 26, 2002
TOO IMPORTANT TO BE TRUSTED TO TRAINED MEN
GKC’s Blog has some thoughts about the importance of juries. A timely post in light of the recent Supreme Court decision.
Old Oligarch’s got an interesting review of the book In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Defense. Old Oli explains that the book was
Recommended by a buddy of mine who's a Federal Agent on our most recent afternoon out shooting. It's an all-around beginner's introduction to the legal, moral and tactical issues surrounding handgun ownership.If you’re like me and don’t have something like this on your nightstand you might be surprised by the topics covered in the book. For example, Oli points out the following:
One sad observation Ayoob [the author] has seen time and again comes from men who shot armed house robbers in defense of their family: 1) The men weren't prepared to face the existential realization that they've just killed a man, and 2) The man expects the wife and children to be proud of him, but often, they are estranged from the father of the family because they have just seen him take a human life, even a guilty one in their own defense. Hollywood, Ayoob maintains, is guilty of creating many such false myths about the ease of gun use and its consequences, causing a blindness to gravity of death, and an image of glamorized cowboy-style armed conflicts.How refreshing to find that in a firearm personal defense book. I know many intelligent, reasonable people who own handguns and I guess it’s nice to see intelligent, reasonable discussion about them.
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?