Thursday, October 27, 2005

Two more random thoughts.

  1. Thankfulness. Thankfulness is a unique and distinctively Christian ability. Of course I don't ignore that being thankful is a natural human phenomenon; in fact, anthropologists write whole books on the oddly universal nature of Gift and Return. (Wonderfully, the very idea of gift--something freely given without expectation of return, explodes categories of commerce so totally as to be an important core to the New Evangelization, but more on that later). Thankfulness has one element that not only separates theists from atheists, but in fact, sets apart Christians from the human race. The beautiful irony is that, inasmuch as it separates and distinguishes Christians, it unites the whole human family.

    What I mean is this. Christians are aware by faith of a God who is all self-giving. Thus as deep as our charity--our friendship with the divine--is, that strong our thankfulness will be. The Christian has a source, a wellspring for infinite self-gift and good works, and its name is thankfulness to God.

    Pretty basic. But inside there's more. The Christian is aware not only of the gift of God's continuous creation--that God gives us each breath of air that we breathe. He is also aware of God's ultimate self-gift in his Son, who truly makes our breathing worthwhile. Yet presented with so unsurpassable a gift, we should be totally powerless to thank God; were it not for the Holy Spirit, God's sacrifice of his Son could be an occasion for despair. But the Spirit teaches us to pray, for "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). This is not merely an invisible, individual teaching, but in the Church, the Spirit teaches us to thank God in a way that is truly pleasing to him... Eucharistein, the Eucharist.

    Thus Christians are set apart by this, and it is acting out of thankfulness which is the singular, inique, concrete way that God breaks in upon a world, offends the logic of sin, to "proclaim liberty to captives" and "let the oppressed go free." See: I, Robot, Sunny's explanaion of his dream: "This is the place where robots meet. Look--you can see them here as slaves to logic, and this man on the hill comes to free them."

  2. The freedom of God. God's own freedom is a notion in theology which tends to be shoved to the back. Part of the blame for this may lie on William of Ockham, who distorted God's freedom into a sort of a joke; he thought he could glorify God's freedom by describing God as if he had total freedom but no love, no honesty, no self-consistency, who had no purpose for creation. The God who saves through a scratch on Jesus's hand or through incarnation as a mule, is a God who says one thing and does another; who confounds his creatures, who indeed does not reveal himself. Ockham's description of God as free is the seed of creeping modern despair at the self-revelation of God.

    In my opinion, the beginning of modernity corresponded with a forgetfulness of the non-competitive otherness of God; a forgetfulness that God is that which is greater than that than which nothing greater can be thought.

    The result of this is the birth of two false gods: the god of the philosophers, and the god of process theology--either the impersonal, rationally necessary, ineffable One Beyond Being which has no will, does not command or reveal, or the personal, dynamic, changing, sympathetic, finite god(s) who are the objects of worship, and have demonstrable freedom, but always veer on the edge of absurdity, or else topple over it. I should say, not so much "birth" but rather resucitation--these are nothing more than Aristotle's "unmoved mover" and the deities of the Illiad, respectively. The only difference is that the "god of the philosophers", if it is spoken about at all, is sometimes called a fifth dimension, or else it takes on Heidegger's critique and becomes the ineffable "Ereignis". But whatever it is, it is never "personal"--such is an insult, either to the ineffable grouund of all being, or to the process of reasoning about it (which, funny enough, are sometimes hard to distinguish). Nobody reads Heidegger anymore but everybody knows his critique, and how to lobby it against believers in a personal deity. "Why do you insist on imposing your artificial, mythical categories on this great mystery? Why do you try to possess, control this great 'What' with the machinations of your puny language? You, who try to make god into someone like yourself--are you not just a metaphysical colonist? Have you not sabotaged our rational reflection with a human desire? While we are thinking, are you not merely emoting?"

    Yet this is the result of a forgetfulness. Because there is one question, perhaps a little mixed with human desires, but primarily rational, and it asks: is the god of the philosophers free? And the answer is no. When the philosophers exclude from God all of the anthropomorphisms of the Christian God, they have to throw out freedom. And perhaps they will say, whatever rational evidence there is of a God, there is no evidence for 'its' freedom. I will grant that proving such from Aquias's 5th Way is a little sketchy, and Anselm is tautological.

    But consider the consequences. First, if the ultimate ground of being is not free, then there is no such thing as freedom. If the god of the philosophers is that which is primordial, basic, ultimately simple; and the evolution of beings involves an increase of complexity of matter, then if freedom did not exist from the beginning as a real thing, then it could have never existed. No degree of complexity or dynamism of matter can yield freedom, only an illusory simulacrum thereof.

    This is not a controversial point; many atheists hold to it with delight. It is a tragedy of reason that so many people who do not think they are atheists, and believe that we are free beings, will also deny freedom to the ultimate Being, saying "It is stupid to think God is personal". They do no realize that freedom, will, intellect, and in the end, personality, come as an indivisible 'package deal'. If God is not a person, then God is not free; if It is not free, then there is no freedom; if there is no freedom, then we are hubristic animals, the Sophists are right, Nietzsche is right, and why the heck are we all discussing this anyway? (A doctoral student at Louvain said that Nietzsche would have been a lot more credible if, instead of writing books, he simply ran out and started hitting people.)

    Second, if the ultimate ground of being is not free, then it is not ultimate. I am not, here, making exactly the same argument as Anselm, but a version of it. I do not even presuppose that 'freedom' is a perfection, or that the ultimate ground of all being need to be perfect. But it is after all, ultimate--not only "first cause" but "continual cause"; the cause of the cause of the causes of all causes, ad infinitim. The "Because" of "Why is there something and not nothing?"

    Yet a non-free "ultimate ground" cannot be this "because". If it is not free, then it acts (not to be confused with "moves") either eternally, unconsciously, and continuously, or else not at all. If the latter, then nothing would be. If the former, then nothing would not be. (This last sentence has taken me a long time to come up with. I'm still trying to probe it for validity).

    ...more to come!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Monday, October 24, 2005

Four random thoughts.

  1. The "Age of Reason"--it denotes the 17th and 18th centuries, characterized by anticlericism and dominance of libertine philosophies, and also the seventh year of a child, the age at which he just barely has the mental faculties to do wrong. Coincidence? I think not.

  2. Genesis 14:18-20--"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be Go Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!'"

    This could be used as a good scriptural apologetic against the notion that the Church has the option to use rice as the matter of the Eucharist. The preeminence of bread and wine in both the New and Old Testament--and in the hands of Melchizedek no less, whose 'order' the Catholic priest is said to join (as distinct from the order of Levi)--demands that continuity--that sign of unity, not only geographically but across eons.

  3. "What are we swimming in?" - the half-sleeping thought that popped into my head before this afternoon's 20 minute nap. The being that underlies all being, the real behind the surface. I conjured an image of all three-dimensional being as two dimensional, and this "sheet" of being as the canvas of God's creation, who gives certain of his paintings more texture, more three-dimensionality than others.

  4. I hate "praise and worship" and other forms of Christian rock--it's bad rock and it's bad Christianity. It's bad rock, smacking of sacharine Disneyland pop-Christian Jesus-Freak "nicety nice" vapid flatulence that ruins the adrenaline rush of good secular classic and metal rock; and it's often bad Christianity, reducing the Gospel to nerve stimulation and flights of middle-class starry-eyed ephemeral sentimental optimism--the perfect target for sin and death to crush into a puddle of bored and narrow-minded despair. When Christian rock is tacked onto the Mass as a "kid grabber," it's worse. Christian rock hijacks the holy sacrifice of the Mass and turns it into the vehicle for a worldly agenda, deifying the lesser good; it reduces beauty to taste, covenant to relevance, charity to infatuation, universal to particular, history to modernity, and ultimately, glorification to Pelagian praise ("we do it"), and salvation to experience.

    A youth group should have two goals with respect to music, which have an analogy to the liturgical purposes of the Glorifying of God and the Sanctification of Man. First, teens should be exposed to, immersed in, and practicing well done, traditional, Catholic music--from multiple ages and cultures (from the most ancient accessible chants, to Byzantine, Gallic, to post Reformation, African, Latino, etc.)--and insodoing, they can see how a distinctive American worshipping music can be a development, and not a break from Catholic music past. Second, teens should be able to listen to all the contemporary stuff with the gift of discernment of spirits, to find where the paschal mystery hides in all of secular culture, in their favorite songs, and in the rest of pop culture; then they will have the freedom that comes from truth, and be able to enjoy secular entertainment in a way their friends couldn't even imagine

    The basic idea is that the Mass, the Source and Summit of Christian life, exports, rather than imports the Gospel that heals and perfects culture.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Funny image...

While on the subject of hunting, a guy at a lunch conversation mentioned that you can't even find a bear in the woods without a circle of hippies protecting it anymore. The thought made me think of the environmentalist protestors who would chain themselves to trees in order to stop the voracious appetites of logging companies.

So I said... hippies chaining themselves to bears?

And there was much laughter. ("Rooaaarrr")

Then I had a very philosophical thought, which I am inclined to do: maybe that image is very much an analogy of how European secular tolerance and irreligion is allowing Muslim extremists take gradually more and more control over the continent...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A quick, early morning thought

Ideology, as Hannah Arendt tells us, is the domination by the "logic" of an "idea." Any good idea--a model, a theory, a scientific "fact"--is accompanied by an inner pattern. When this inner pattern breaks outside of the original, "factual" content of the model, takes on a life of its own, and begins to enslave thought in foreign spheres, then it becomes ideology. Examples: Naziism as an outgrowth of Darwinism; Communism as an outgrowth of Hegelianism; Ideological Republicanism as an outgrowth of Adam Smith; Relativism as an outgrowth of sociology. See also: VIKI's totalisation of the "Three Laws" in the "I, Robot" movie--"My logic is undeniable."

Democracy is good, not because it has an especially keen eye for truth (it doesn't), but because it is the best natural bulwark against ideology. I.e., the best way to humanize the ideas driving government is to throw as many humans at them as possible.

However, we must remember that Hitler was "legitimately" elected in a democratic process. Why? Because the electors were, not persuaded by, but attracted to Hitler. Why? The mass media, image manipulation, and mob psychology.

The mass media--particularly that which is controlled by the few, i.e., television and radio--is the nemesis of democracy. It is a parasite on the system which prevents it from humanizing government as it ought. It is the means by which ideology subverts its only bulwark. Democracy, full of hope for the humanization of government in the 19th century, is now just as utterly defunct as monarchy.

What about the Internet as a democratizing influence? Several problems. (1) Not nearly as many people have it, or can take full advantage of it, (2) though useful as a tool of research, it can also be (and is, generally) used by individuals to reinforce already-held views bestowed upon them by media-controlled culture, (3) is only too often the "handmaid" of the media.

The new golden rule: the one who controls ideas controls the nations; ideas are manipulable via images and omission of information; governments are built to legitimize and promote lifestyles cooked up in the minds of sitcom writers.



Sitcoms and drama shows are miniature, super-controlled universes, where nothing happens except exactly what the writer wishes to happen; "Sex and the City," "Friends," etc., vividly show an actualized, possible "Age of Aquarius," at every turn and in every living room purveying a "hey-this-stuff-ain't-so-bad" fictional fracture between sex and the origin of life, family and identity, trivial choices and life-altering/breaking consequences. The clarion call of "Murphy Brown," "Viva la liberated single mother!" deliciously omits her profound agony, and her child's future inability to form deep relationships. And it does it, not for liberating women, but liberating men: "get out while you can, she can take care of herself just fine."


Addendum 2:

The sympathetic protagonist of modern televized fiction is always in danger of becoming an absolute center of value; the quasi-divine arbiter of right and wrong. There is an ominous truth to the title of "everyman" often assumed by characters like Frasier, Clark Kent, Raymond, etc. This character's worries become my worries; this character's joys become my joys; this character's enemies become my enemies; this character's solutions become my solutions. It will not matter if an individual can admit that there are "good priests and bad priests;" the more often priests are the antagonists in films--or that the "good priests" have, as their antagonists, the Catholic faith--the more habitually priests will be seen as either the bearers, the dupes, or the tragic slaves of "oppressive tradition."

Obviously it will be objected that people are not such sheep, and that this is a demeaning theory of the effect of television. But may I be so bold as to point out that the only film I can recall in the last decade not to assume that people in love must shack-up before they marry was, in all irony, "The 40 Year Old Virgin"? Consider also that, as many gullible or sheep-like individuals there may be, not a single one of them will admit to being such. In fact, this is the most telling sign of it: "I am no sheep; I am a radically independent individual. I form my own values; I am my own man/woman; I am free." Is this not the very thing promised and/or granted by every commercial advertisement, not merely in fact, but in method? Show me the one who is terrified to be influenced by television, and I will show you the radically independent thinker.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A good evening with friends

I had a wonderful night out tonight with my fellow 3-West cam members; a spontaneous little bratwurst and beer on our balcony. We joked about things, shot the breeze, and so on. It's a good way to end an evening of prayer and recollection, and a long day.

Today we processed around the lake with the Blessed Sacrament, stopping at significant intervals along the way. I had the honor of carrying a candle, but my winky little arms hurt something awful after 80 minutes of carrying the thing. I felt a sense of dread as we approached the site of the crash; I'm very happy that Fr. Canary, the rector, reconsecrated the campus.

Wow. I'm not much for long-windedness at the moment. I'm afraid that's the best I can do after a couple of beers. God bless.

Apologetics as Inculturation

Note: the last post was satire. This one is not. :)

Peter Berger wants to ease the mind of theologians. He tells them: do not take those nasty relativists too seriously, because after all, they are not true relativists. They have used their Darwin and their Frued and their sociology to reduce religion into Durkheimian plausibility structures. Yet they have only neglected to do the same to themselves. Berger believes that he has done so, and hence we enter into a bright future of the "level playing field", where irreligion and secularism must compete without any a priori advantages over of the great religious traditions.

That's the playing field, but what is the game? For Berger, the game is the inductive method. For his money, the true religion, bustling about in the midst of all the false ones, will irresistably sing to the discerning and rational seeking mind, who only takes the time to investigate.

[to be continued...]


Title: Apologetics as Inculturation (as Opposed to Berger's Empirical Induction)

Abstract: In this paper, I will argue that "inculturation," as a necessary activity of the Church, is an ideal framework for the business of apologetics. When apologetics is understood as a kind of inculturation of the Gospel directed at relativistic culture, two things happen: (1) the specific flaws of Berger's inductive method are corrected, and (2) the positive insights of Pascal and Ratzinger are actualized.

The point of the paper is not to shoehorn apologetics into the mold of inculturation, but to expand the sense in which apologetics makes use of reason in order to demonstrate the rationality of Christian faith. Namely, if, from the side of faith, reason cannot be asbtracted into a fully autonomous, "pure" instrument without doing damage to itself, then the 'reason' used by apologetics must have two features beyond its counterfeit double: (1) rooted in faith, and (2) directed primarily to the heart of its audience. Enter inculturation. Inculturation has always been constituted by these insights, whatever culture it addresses. Apologetics cannot be truly effective if it regards itself as making an appeal only to sound reason. It must incorporate an inculturating paradigm, and make an appeal to hearts which are de facto feverishly concerned with sound reason. What makes apologetics apologetics, is not so much its unique method, as its unique audience. The purpose of this turn is to heighten the apologist's awareness of the pre-rational (desire-based) foundations of rationalist/relativist claims, not for the purpose of attacking them as inconsistent with the professed rationalism, but to see them as seeds of the Gospel and reorder them towards it as their highest fulfillment.

I. Introduction
II. Apologetics as inculturation: Correlating Ratzinger's notion of culture with Berger's notion of plausibility structures.
III. Problems in the inductive method resolved.
IV. Insights by Ratzinger and Pascal incorporated.
V. How other things fall into place: Wretchedness of man + greatness of God; the limits of reason
VI. Conclusion

[Just to illustrate further...]

Inculterative apologetics is not a reductive approach to reconciling cognitive dissonance, though they share the concern with rationally making connections between Christian faith and the deepest desires of modern relativist culture. Apologetics rooted in faith, however, does not immediately grant credence to relativist culture's superficial concerns (any more than inculturation would grant that eating human hearts was the deepest desire of the Aztecs).

Inculterative apologetics is not a deductive approach to preserving Catholic identity, though it shares the goal of demonstrating to relativist culture that its superficial satisfactions are dross compared to the gold available only to a faith which is passive to the supreme providence of a loving God active in history via the Church. Apologetics does not assume the sheer disorder of relativist passions, and seeks inroads to the relativist's heart via reason and desire-fulfillment.

Inculterative apologetics is not Berger's inductive approach, though it does share the requirement that the members of relativist culture have an active exercise in rational, and experiential investigation. It does not assume that these tools, unaided by faith (even the faith of another person), are not wrapped in personal wishes and distorted by disordered desires, or that even if they were not, that they alone are not totally inadequate to "find" faith because they misjudge what faith is.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Shut Up, You're Stupid."

"Hello. My name is Doctor Ribble Namejokes. I have over forty years of experience in applied abnormal psychology and evangelical mission. I have been an advisor of dialogue and dispute for many prestigious Catholic pastors such as Marcel Levebre and Hans Kung, as well as authors like Michael Rose, and the journalists of the National Catholic Reporter. Years of training and study have taught me one important lesson, which I have made the center of a new approach to dialogue and apologetics in the Catholic Church. It is all summed up in the title of my new book, Shut Up, You're Stupid: Dialogue and Apologetics in the Catholic Church.

In my book, I outline a series of helpful strategies for engaging in various encounters between the Catholic faith and the outside world. Strategies like, "Tell them, 'Shut up, you're stupid',"


or my personal favorite, "Imply, 'Shut up, you're stupid.'"


Of course, sometimes with that last one, if subtlety is lost on the dialogue parter, it helps to return to one of the prior strategies, or better, find a crowd to help improve your credibility.


It is my true hope that, by teaching us to channel our efforts into their most natural expression, this book will usher in a new age of productive and exciting dialogue and apologetics. In the meantime, I also recommend my other popular books, Stop Your Stupid Whining: Pastoral Care and Counseling in the Catholic Church and You Can't Do Anything Right, Can You? A Beginner's Guide to Conducting the Liturgy."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Divided. Really?

While reading an assigned chapter for my sacramental theology class, I came across a throwaway line about the divisions among Christian denominations: despite our divisions, we are united. Probably because I was highly caffeintated at the time (I'm not, now--fancy that), I wrote on my white-board: "Are we united in spite of our divisions, or are we divided in spite of our unity?" I can understand the optimistic impulse in ecumenical dialogue--it's healthy for progress. At the same time, I have a deep suspicion of throw-away lines meant to sustain a polite veil over what really is an ugly situation.

I am not saying that we definitely are divided in spit of our unity; but the question should be looked at.

To explain myself: the term you want to emphasize is always the second term in the sentence. I.e., "In spite of our [superficial quality], we are [deeper, underlying quality]." To say that we are united in spite of our divisions, is to imply that the divisions, real though they may be, occupy a superficial category relative to our unity. This can be taken in the extreme sense that the superficial category is actually illusory or trivial; the "divisions" mean nothing, and we can get along fine if we exclude discussion of them entirely, and focus only on the deeper unity. There is a powerful impulse in that direction in ecumenical dialogue, as well as interreligious dialogue. The fatal flaw in it is that it takes a category of details--i.e., those which are "superficial" relative to another, deeper category; and it makes them "superficial", absolutely. E.g., if belief in Mary as Mother of God divides us, and it is relatively more superficial than our agreed upon belief in the Trinity, then it is "superficial" can therefore can be discarded.

There is a logical confusion here. Relative superficiality is not the same as superficiality. Eyes are superficial organs relative to the human heart; that hardly means life would not be devastatingly affected if we plucked them out.

But even when the "superficial" category, i.e., the alleged divisions amid Christians, is not regarded so flippantly, it is still considered of less importance of the "deeper" category. It's a post-Vatican II truism--not to mention a doctrine as laid out by Ut Unum Sint, that the things that bond all Christians together as One are more profound than the things that divide them.

"If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them" (UUS #22). (I can't believe I actually found that quote. Yay me.)

But bring the question into the philosophical realm (*note the weeping and gnashing of teeth in the background*), there remains a problem with speaking of more-or-less superficial categories of either division and/or unity" the referent.

Things are never simply relative to one-another. Why? Because to be relative to something else implies some level of distance (conceptual distance or phsyical distance); and wherever distance is implied, the limits of that distance are implied.

[I'm going to cut off this reflection, started last Friday, here. It was interrupted that night by a couple of beers with friends, thereby making analysis impossible. My mind has gone on to other things, and I no longer have motivation to finish. Yay, beer!]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Peaceful, busy night.

Just got released from an evening quiz on the virtue of prudence. Easy stuff, but it was worthwhile, if only because I came away with a new understanding of proportionalism. Proportionalism may seem to be the opposite of casuistry--it emphasises the uniqueness of every single situation, and subjectivizes moral judgement so much that no objective standard of action is acceptable, whereas casuistry makes past cases the absolute norm.

They're both basically the same, in that they ask this basic question: What is the minimum I can do, and still call myself a "good person." Doggon sinners... if only I didn't rationalize things the same way myself all of the time.

Today was very strange, emotionally. I began with a powerful--powerful--resignation to the failure of both my 'Special Moral' quiz and the 'Reformation' midterm, especially the latter. I hadn't studied for it at all the night before, because I had spent all the time studying the wrong section of our textbook for the 'Special Moral' quiz.

Thanks be to God on two counts: the quiz was a take-home, and beyond all explanation, I had crammed enough factual material in my head to be able to answer most of the questions on the midterm in a decent way, even if I can't remember hardly anything any more. This style of studying is really dangerous. I mean, not just to me--and certainly, apparently, not to my academic scores--but to the whole of seminary formation. Cramming isn't studying. It's the opposite. You forget things so quickly after cramming, it's almost as if you haven't been taking the class at all...

Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I can't help but feel like a fraud, doing well on an exam that I spent only the three hours before memorizing facts for.

See, here's what I've been preoccupied with today: last night, a friend suggested to me that I might be 'addicted' to academic success. Not to academics, per se, but to the sucess of it. Grades and scores. Now, on the surface of things I know that's not true. I don't cry over B's, though a C might make me sour for a day. But I began to think today: what if it all just came crashing down? What if I never got an 'A' again, ever, in any class? What if I lived with studies occupying a few hours of each day, and not whole nights and futile afternoons? What if my sense of the quality of my studies lied in way I lived my life outside of class, rather than the wash of relief at seeing a report card of straight A's? What if I could join friends in evening recreation, instead of being imprisoned by the cycle of catch-up/perfectionism?

The idea was so tantalizing, I zoned out in 'Special Moral' for a few minutes, just to write the following:

"I will be crucified by my own incompetence. My feeling of impending doom will be realized. I will not despair - I hope in God. He will make something of me, which will save me and bring others to salvation... but I will not be able to rescue this smooth path through the seminary from utter destruction. I will stand with the hope of God while I am immolated by the fact of unsustainable academic success. This giant will fall--it is too top-heavy. It will become helpless and unhelpable. My hope is that it will die quickly, so as not to feed upon the pity and help of others, and so continue to hinder my own union with God. Destroy me, God--strike me down. Break me, demolish me, starve me, kill me, rob me, only do not fail to act in me."

Blast from the Past - Oct. 11th, 2004

A Firey Polemic Against Religious Pluralism

Pluralist: "If all names lead to the same thing (Yaweh, Deo, Allah, Brahma, Buddha-Nature, Tao), does it matter which name we use?"

Me: "Those names you referred to do not refer to the same thing."

Pluralist: "That is a matter of opinion, much like anything to do with definitions or naming when discussing religion. And actually, if you were of Islam, you would believe "Allah is One", and to that person, all those names would refer to the same thing. Words may sound different, be in different languages and spoken by different people, but they still point toward the same meaning."

Me: "Opinion has nothing to do with what those words mean; those words have concrete historical origins and infinitely nuanced meanings which arise out of particular contexts, all of which you are ignoring for no other reason than it's convenient for you to do so. Your tolerance is a fake tolerance; your non-dogmatism is equally fake (it pretends to rule over ALL religions)--your religious philosophy is a common, shallow, postmodern, lazy response to the plurality of religions which lets you stroke your faux mystical ego like Dr. Evil's hairless cat. Allah cannot be collapsed into the Christian God; the Trinity has nothing to do with Buddah, and your theory unwittingly and wantonly mocks the religious faith of simple believers all over the world. Religious pluralism is ignorant, hegemonic, and dripping with greasy dishonesty about the fact that you're just another agnostic with a weak stomach for confrontation."

Pluralist: "1. I have been studying religions, its kinda a lifetime project of mine, comparative religion study, and it helps that I have access to a large University library. 2. As for opinion, how about the council of Nicea, where the idea of the trinity was settled with a vote, and a close one at that. 3. I am definatly not an agnostic, at least as far as Buddhism is usually not considered a religion based on doubt, if there is a such thing."

[Continued in another thread...]

Pluralist: "Excuse me, may I please interject something into your conversation?

Your arguments seem to be getting nowhere, not unlike arguements of the past which have taken up similar discussion. In fact, this disscussion is futher cementing the beliefs of the oposition. The more you argue, the more your mind closes to posibilities. You anger increases because others are trying to influence your beliefs, and their anger increases because you are trying to influence their beliefs. It is territoriality on a mental and spiritual scale. The results cannot be good. Therefore I will not joint the fray, I will only supply some information I have found to be helpful. You may criticise (nicely, please) and comment all you wish. These ideas have worked for me, and may be helpful to others, but will likely not apply to everyone.

In my spiritual "travels" somethings seem to stand out for me:

~How where ever I go, what ever I do, all things and events seem to be connected in some way, no matter how distant they may look from first glance.
~That, somehow, there are forces in the universe that are unseen, unheard and unfelt, and yet they somehow they guide the universe towards balance.
~That when you divide the smallest particle, you find that all matter is energy, plasmatic and dynamic.
~If all things are energy, then maybe all things are one.
~That consious beings tend to wonder about how the present moment came to be.
~These consious beings need answers to their wonderings.
~So religions is created to try to answer these questions, although they often fall short.
~Even though there are many, within each lies Truth, but you must search for it.
~The Truth that you find will lead you not away from, but towards, inner peace.
~Intolerance and hatred always move you away from inner peace.
~In bringing inner peace, you will become close to the "Base of all Things".
~That which I call the base of all things has many names, but they all refer to the same.
~All religions point to this Base.

and one more that I find particularly important to me...

~To heal the world, you must first heal yourself."

[Suffice to say, I wasn't going to have any of that. I had heard too much of this claptrap already. Time to bring out the big guns. I was pretty merciless, and although I later cooled off, I want to post here my more 'interesting' response.]

Me: "Saying that all religions have a little truth is tantamount to saying they're all equally wrong. If I had a dime for every self-styled mystic who "invented" this "great new idea" that solved the world's religious problems, I could probably bribe God to send people who annoy me to hell. Starting with the self-styled mystics."

Pluralist: "This term, Mystic, it seems to annoy you much! I have never considered myself a mystic up until this point. A Mystic would be someone who believes in mystery by definition, I guess. I have also heard of mystics from certain religions, like Sufi.
So, I guess I could consider myself a Mystic. Thanks for the push!"

Me: "I'm being sarcastic. I have profound respect for mystics, even of other traditions. I regard your philosophy of religion a counterfeit mysticism.

Pluralist: "BTW: Im a Buddhist. A Zen Buddhist, to be more precise."

Me: "You can be a Zen Buddhist then, and stop talking like the world religions are your spiritual smorgasbord. (Yes that makes me angry)."

Look, I apologize for my tone; it's late and I'm about to get some much needed sleep. But if you only understood how frequently I've had post-modern teenagers who knew nothing about religion get all gooey about how all the religions contribute to each other and all point to the same truth--you would understand why I have no tolerance of your philosophy. I'd rather discuss such things with a guy who believes, firmly, that my Church is the great abomination or the whore of Babylon, than a wishy washy hippie who has the audacity to make every ancient tradition a mere vanity bumper sticker on their imaginary spiritual vehicle.

You'll notice that this is the Hard Questions room [the name of the forum], and you know what? The question of religious truth is a hard question; your religious philosophy tries to shoehorn it into an easy question, but it only does so at the expense of taking seriously what every earnest believer understands about their faith: it is the truth. Religious pluralism tries to overcome disagreement, not by reason, but through vacuous sentimentalism. And to me that will always evoke images of flaming bags of..."

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Must.... write... paper!!!

But first, a blog post. "Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'." Yeah yeah, goofy atheist misrepresenting a sloppy sociology experiment. Here's what I just posted in the Megatokyo forums:

"On one hand, the story is irrelevant from a strictly Christian perspective; if the Gospel is true, then to heck with whatever correlates with belief in it. Nobody ever found faith by examining which religion decreased murder rates or increased the nation's GDP.

On the other hand, this sort of schlock shouldn't be simply ignored. Bad for evangelizing all you agnostic types. :) It couldn't possibly be scientific in the strict sense of the word, because you would need a scientific definition of "religion," which either doesn't exist, or else it corresponds so little to the complex reality that it has no meaning.

Here's the crux: Psychology and sociology are sciences only insofar as they measure predictable human behavior. Yet Christianity, in all of its tradition, demands growing in freedom through the rule of reason over the passions--the things that make humanity most predictable and ridiculous. Moreover, this reason (unlike rationalistic 19th century 'reason') is centered and organized by an extra-worldly revelation from an Ultimate Ungraspable Beyond--placing the Christian behavior even further outside the scope of science. If the "scientist of Christianity" presupposed a closed natural system, in principle fully explanable by finite laws (as he should), he would be limited to operating with a Durkheimian parody of Christianity--but not Christianity itself.

If there were actually a real correlation between lived Christian faith and violent crime, vs. 'peaceful' Western irreligion, I would attribute it to that Christians are actually struggling against the division between good and evil that runs in their hearts--and this is a violent struggle. If the agnostics are peaceful and passive, one may just as freely see it as a "going quietly into the night" of a dying world of temporary pleasures, rather than the success of a secularized Ghandi-esque ethic of peace."

Blast from the past - Oct. 9th, 2004

Why were people forbidden from reading the Bible in the 16th century?

"Here's the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Scripture--if you go to "VI. ATTITUDE OF THE CHURCH TOWARDS THE READING OF THE BIBLE IN THE VERNACULAR", you'll see a concise history of the issue.

The overriding concern of every single decree that limited private ownership or vernacular translation of the Bible was that of erroneous interpretations. This would have been especially true after Protestantism asserted that individuals could interpret Scripture without error through the Holy Spirit, even apart from the Church, contrary to the early Fathers, even contrary to the people interpreting scriptures around them. (Incidentally, wasn't part of Joseph Smith's first prayer an expression of disgust with the sheer number of Christian churches?)

Now I understand that the LDS and some forms of Protestantism believe that mainstream Christianity went to shit almost the moment the last of the Twelve apostles died--so, there's no way I'm going to be able to address that point here. But for the Catholic Church, fidelity to the Fathers, like Irenaeus, Augustine, Justin Martyr, etc.--was fidelity to the Scriptures.

That's why you see in the article, "Benedict XIV required that the vernacular version read by laymen should be either approved by the Holy See or provided with notes taken from the writings of the Fathers or of learned and pious authors."

I mean, if you don't think erroneous interpretations are possible, or that they just don't matter and the hierarchy just had a bug up its ass--just look at the situation today. People who don't know anything, just pick up a Bible and read something (say, one of Isaiah's visions, for example), and they think, "shit, this's here's crazier than all git-out!"

So "Dominici Gregis" took the sporatic regional restrictions on Scripture ownership/translation/reading and put the authority in the Bishops' hands.

Upon reflection, I think it's really sad that such a powerful regulation was in place universally for a full 250 years. The fortress mentality of the Church during and after the Reformation did a lot of damage to theology, and we still feel the effects of it today. But at the same time, even in the thick of those centuries, Catholic spiritual life wasn't dead, nor did Catholic belief change significantly even from the first 1200 years, when vernacular translations were the norm and popular scripture reading was encouraged."

If God knows what we will do, then we cannot do differently. Belief in God is incompatible with free will!

"Not to mention the equivocation of the word "can". It has two very distinct meanings--either it describes someone's ability according to their circumstances; or else it's used as a prediction of what they "will" do.

There's a huge logical snafu when people try to collapse "will" and "will not" with "can" or "cannot". Why? Because predicate logic, by itself, does not have time variables--statements about the future do not fit into predicate logic without modification. Such exercises in logic are not valid without the right variables.

I never got beyond predicate logic in my studies, so I can't reconstruct the dillema according to proper formula.

There's also the point that such arguments always fallaciously treat God as merely one actor among others within the world. It ignores centuries of philosophy which has consistently held that God, as first principle, is prior to time, space, dimension, whatever. Thus, the orthodox doctrine, that God is perfectly free, is impossible to refute by references to 'created' worldly principles like time and knowledge.

I anticipate someone will say, "that's a circular argument". I don't deny it. But circular arguments are not wrong--they only contain no information; they are tautologies. But we should look at this as Anselm did: any anti-theist argument that detracts from God's perfection is only arguing against a demiurge, which itself is not God, being that one can always think of that-which-is-more-perfect than an imperfect being.

So to the accusation of "circularity," the theist returns the counter-accusation of "equivocation!"

One last point is that God is not confined nor defined by the classical descriptions of "omniscient", "omnipotent", "omnipresent", and "omnibenevolent". These are more poetic than scientific; if they are treated as exhaustive, they become prisons rather than praises. Moreover, the perfections of God are not seperate nor truly distinct. God is perfect simplicity (and even that doesn't pass muster as a definiton).

It's an important element of monotheistic faiths in general that God is unspeakable, indescribable, inexhaustible mystery. In an equivocal sense, God is unknowable. I say "equivocal" because, from the believers viewpoint, God is self-revealing; i.e. we know nothing of God except that which he has desired to show us, via creation, via revelation, via reason, and for Christians, via his Son."

On whether the medieval Church conspired to keep people ignorant of science, vis-a-vis Galileo...

"This was not about science or power, but the earnestly held belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. You can't be a dastardly conspirator if you hold the same beliefs that you have been comissioned to teach the whole world."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Geeking out on a Saturday

Ah, Saturday, how do I love thee. Sadly, it's yet another day I told myself I would spend studying, and another day I did absolutely none at all. Motivation? None. Am I depressed? Don't think so. I just have a flippant sort of disregard for learning. It's a big problem--I have exams and quizzes all over the place next week. I don't know how I'm going to prepare for them all tomorrow, especially if I goof off again.

Instead of working, I spent almost all of my time networking my pocket pc to the laptop. I can now gain exclusive access to select folders on my laptop's hard drive from any wireless access point on campus. That means that I can save typewritten documents to the shared folder right after class. On top of that, I no longer need to store any music or movie files on the pocket pc at all--having mounted my "music" and "movies" folders as network drives, I can stream them remotely.

If I had a portable access point I could plug in wherever I happen to be, I'd never have to go searching for wireless signals again. Hmmm...

I also learned how to ad-hoc connect the PPC to the laptop... and, usefully, how to ad-hoc connect any two computers, although I haven't tested it with any non-Windows XP PCs. That was something I tried to do over the summer with a friend's laptop, without success. It's actually not that difficult.

October 8th, 2004

More debate with the atheist...

Me: [Referring to the understanding bestowed by faith] "Yeah, well, sometimes you have to speak a language for a while before you can understand its poetry."

Atheist: "That metaphor... is completely inapplicable."

Me: "It works more than you know. Like individual languages, or, for example, a piece of music, faith has an internal 'logic' or consistency. This is not to be confused with the logic of "modus ponens" and such; within Catholicism it's given the name "sensus fidelium" ('sense of the faithful')--John Henry Newman called it the 'illative sense'.

You'll surprise me if you don't simply scoff and jeer, "It all just means you're brainwashed and will believe anything!"

Languages are not wholly independent, but neither are they wholly accessible to each other. Expressions, ideas, distinctions, abstractions in some or one language may never be adequately translated into another; the process of learning the meaning of another language's word is deeply involved. Take Heidegger's "Dasein" for example. Well, ok, it means "Man." But it also means "Being." But to know it has Heidegger knows it, you have to trace his steps. Sometimes, it's not enough to trace the steps of the individual who coined the word; you have to trace the steps of an entire linguistic group. No shortcuts via dictionaries.

In a similar respect, non-Christians, while certainly open to some of the basic concepts of Christianity (enough that conversion has been desireable for a good number), should not expect to have the same access to understanding certain things as long-time, knowledgable Christians.

The significance of this is that only too many criticisms of Christianity are precisely of this nature. The French think that Dutch is an inferior language because it has no poetry; in fact the truth is that the French only think Dutch is inferior because its poetry isn't in French."

A year later...

Um, yeah... When I was writing this, I was kind of in the heat of battle, and now looking at it I see where it was sort of shallow. Oh woe are we Christians, so misunderstood. Of course, I couldn't say everything I wanted to say, given that the audience of the Megatokyo forums isn't going to be receptive to the notion of faith as a sense. For me at the time, I had no interest in convincing anyone that they were missing out on ultimate truth--rather, I just wanted my opponents to speak less infallibilistically about Christianity.

I like the last line, though. Anything that pokes fun at the French deserves to be preserved in the archives.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Not Noteworthy: The Blog That Gives You No Excuse For Wasting Your Time

Welcome to Not Noteworthy, the blog and 'Net posting respository of Jeff Zimmerman. What kind of repository, you ask? Well, years of being a Net addict haven't helped me develop social skills, but they have added pages and pages of my developing philosophical and theological thought to various diverse corners of the Internet.

Thus, not only will you see my up to date thinking here; every day, I will dump whatever essay, worth-while posts, and thoughts I have sprinkled throughout the Internet in years past. Yay--a veritable treasure vault of irrelevance!

October 7th, 2004

In a debate with an atheist...

Atheist: "...your belief in [Christianity] allows you to accept the double talk and imprecision that makes it seem to work on the surface."

Me: "Christianity involves numerous paradoxes, but these are not "double-talk". When you're deep into the tradition, this becomes evident in a way that outsiders won't understand (and will continue to laugh about while at the same time refusing to study). Yes, Christianity is about freedom, but this freedom is understood as inseperable from our social being which requires us to choose good rather than evil. That's a paradox. Yes, God seeks the salvation of the whole human race, but the gift of our freedom means that many will choose otherwise. That's a paradox.

Paradox is a sign of the authenticity of the Christian faith, not its failures. Why? Because the human person is a creature of paradox. Christianity is deeply humanistic for taking seriously the complex nature of our inner lives. To disparage Christianity because of certain tensions, is to demand an essentially anti-human univocal reality."

In a thread titled, "What Would You Die For?"

"Why are you people so damn conservative? I mean, police officers have to risk their lives all the time for people they don't know and probably don't even like. Are the only lives that are valuable the ones that give you comfort and the faces that you recognize?

If you saw a stranger whose life you could save at the expense of your own, do you mean to tell me that you would actually choose not to do so? I mean, hey, I know in most situations people get scared or don't think fast enough or whatever. But now, comfortably reading the forum posts, are you guys actually serious that you would let someone die (who didn't need to), because of the loss (or even the risk) of your own person?" (Sadly, the answer was yes, in most cases).