Thursday, June 21, 2007

Beckwith and Dawkins

Francis J. Beckwith wrote a First Things blog post, "On the Irrationality of Richard Dawkins," in which he argues that Dawkin's call for "reprimand and correction" against 'irrational' theists is itself irrational in the face of his own thoroughgoing atheism, since it contradicts Dawkins' readily-admitted denial of the ultimate existence of things like "duty" or "purpose".

As I read, I confess to being a little disappointed and bored with the argument. Let me play the honorary atheist here and pine that the entire post was a lengthy exercise in missing the point.

Dawkins, and I am sure most thoughtful atheists, are by now weary of the chorus of theists: "without God there cannot be anything like real meaning in life." For myself as a theist I would hope we would at least do our opponents the service of avoiding unnuanced choruses that, anyway, don't tell the atheists anything they don't already know. "The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference" (Dawkins in Scientific American, 1995). Of course he knows, and unless we're willing to get to the bottom of why Dawkins has no problem assigning moral duties to his intellectual peers, we haven't begun to speak to him.


Atheists, as class, are not generally nihilists, and for most of them the Christian dichotomy between "ultimate life meaning" and "absolute meaninglessness" is a false option. There's a book on that very subject, as well as a collection of essays. Bear in mind that by linking these things I am not endorsing them; I am only pointing out that we are past the point when the charge of nihilism can be made without elaboration or nuance. Atheists, for their part, believe they have already answered that charge.

For atheists, the key argument is that the Christian false dichotomy ignores the fact of non-ultimate meaning, and it is this non-ultimate meaning which atheists argue should be enough for anyone to live for. We are nothing but mammals after all; why should we bother about eternal things at all?

More later!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Theology studies conundrum

OK, so the most important short term goal is done - finding a job. From that, the other landmarks should fall into place - living on my own, paying my own bills and establishing credit, and settling into a manageable lifestyle.

But unfortunately, I can't quite settle until I move another mountain: applying to masters programs in theology. Ugh, this is such a chore; if only I could have finished the M.Div program at Mundelein Seminary, this would be so much easier. As it is, I am at a total loss as to where to begin. I didn't have enough time during my last trip to the Midwest to visit the schools that were recommended to me - Marquette, Chicago Divinity, or Notre Dame. Now I'm kind of stuck. Let me count the ways.
  • I have a job as a high school teacher, and I assured my interviewers that I had no intention of splitting at my first opportunity. I would feel like a dog if I didn't given them at least two consecutive years. This means that I am limited to Summer programs for 2008, and this means also that my deadlines have jumped up a season. It immediately disqualifies me from Notre Dame's MTS program, which they recommend for students seeking doctoral studies, which I most certainly am.
  • I have to take the GRE exam. I would rather share a glass of septic waste with the unholy mutant spawn of Richard McBrian and a giraffe.
  • Money's going to be tiiiiiiiiight. I'm actually not incredibly worried about this one; a Suze Orman book convinced me that I can afford to go into debt if I'm smart about it. But sadly, part of being smart about it is applying for grants.
  • My academic record is schizophrenic. One year computer science at the UofA, one year English lit at St. John's Seminary College, two years philosophy in Belgium, and two years of an incomplete 4-year M.Div program at Mundelein. I have more credits than you can shake a textbook at, but they're all so scattered that I'm scared no masters program will take me. I'm a total mutt.
  • I have no idea which programs to pursue. Of course, beggars can't be choosers, but I know what I want from a master's education and I'm not going to settle if I don't need to. The professors need to be brilliant enough not to make me miss Mundelein or Louvain, and the program must lead to opportunities for employment and doctoral work. Not having to take too many classes with stupid liberals would be a plus (intelligent and engaging liberals I can work with).
It has been almost 18 months since my last day in a classroom. What could be more depressing than the thought that one is getting a little dumber every day? I have to get myself back on track.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Before I start work as a teacher I pay the bills by working as a temp. My first position was a cushy data entry job at a ritzy health spa. My current position is an office clerk for a popular journal for fibromyalgia patients.

What is fibromyaglia? The simplest definition is that it is soul-crushing, full-body agony of indeterminate origin. Societal ostracization is practically a symptom of the disease. Ostensibly my job is to take orders for subscriptions and renewals. But half the time my calls are hour-long variations on the theme of: "OH GOD IT HURTS PLEASE HELP ME NOBODY ELSE WILL AAAHHH".

This is something I never encountered as a seminarian, although I imagine it is a small taste of what my CPE would have been like. Gives me an inkling of why some seminarians have near break-down experiences on their CPE assignments. On the one hand this makes me thankful I probably won't ever have to do CPE; on the other it reminds me that the human population is truly being crucified and cannot be ignored by the Body of Christ, any one of us.

The worst part about my job is how little I can do. I can't even listen to people for very long because I have projects to do in order that our publication can get out to other people with "the fibro". So the long phonecalls wind up being a battle of wills - "HELP ME" - "Would you like a complimentary information packet? - "HEAR MY STORY" - "Perhaps a diagnosis kit?" - "UNDERSTAND MY SUFFERING" - "I do apologize but I need to return to work."

*sigh* Pray for fibro patients and for me.

On Equality of the Sexes, part whatever

The statement that "men and women are equal" is well and good as a principle of law, as an enlightenment value and societal goal, and so on. However I think that few forget how rooted this principle is in theism - the notion that all have equal dignity and are absolutely valuable becomes incomprehensible when our common divine origin is obscured.

But suppose we do just that, being good modern philosophers and not taking for granted theistic principle. Then, what can we say about the equality of the sexes, or the equality of anybody for that matter? In fact this is not a worthless question, for it re-asks the question from a strictly naturalistic standpoint, and could serve to say something (in a round-about way) about God.

Sub specie aeternis, I do not say that "Men and women are equal"; as an abstract principle it is empty and meaningless. Rather, I say that men and women live in an infinitely recursive alternation of natural superiority and irreducible complementariness. Naturalistically speaking no male and no female is ever in a relationship in which "equality" has any currency; rather, owing in part to the roles their sexes take in different stages of life, and in part to other reasons, there is always, always a differential, and one is always giving deference to the other. There is always a primary, a secondary, and owing precisely to this differential, a special and unique fruit of the interaction. Equality, in an abstract and numerical sense, kills fruitfulness; but infinitely alternating inequalities are the rich soil of civilization.

"Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God." 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On "Knocked Up"

I don't mean to turn Not Noteworthy into a movie review repository, but some friends and I watched this one last night and I would like to comment (when do I not?).

The Good:
  • Implicit anti-abortion message (at least that's what I saw).
  • Demonstrates that an unexpected pregnancy is not only not the end of the world, but has potential for countless blessings.
  • Importance of sacrifice for the good of family.
  • Insightful criticisms of various things--superficiality of show biz, some common problems in marriages, (overly controlling, overly lax) etc.
  • Funny, funny, funny, funny

The Bad:

  • Another movie proclaiming the normalcy of premarital and casual sex...
  • ...and irreligion.
  • Seems sympathetic to adultery in some cases.
  • Trots out the double-standard of chastity adults have for themselves vs. their children, while suggesting that they should be more lax toward the children than disciplined with themselves.
  • Sooo much pot. Cripes, when are people going to stop believing the fantasy that this is a harmless drug?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"Crank" and Prayer

Another far-reaching movie analysis here; I recently rented "Crank" with Jason Statham and Amy Smart (I've had a huge crush on Amy Smart since seeing Rat Race).

The movie itself doesn't have anything in the way of culturally redeeming qualities. Sorry.

But it does furnish the stuff of good analogies, so I would like to make a comparison here that a priest giving a homily could probably never get away with.

The hit-man star of the movie, Chev Chelios (which, for me, conjures up images of boxes of cereal), has been poisoned in a such a way that his heart is continually slowing down until the point it will simply stop. In order for him to stay alive just long enough to get revenge, he needs anything at all that will keep it pumping, especially adrenaline; but substitutes will do for the short term (caffeine, epinephrine, etc).

Excuse me, but do we not have here a perfect image of the human condition after the Fall?

Crank depicts a man confronted with death and who is thus placed on a desperate quest for stimulation that he knows will only postpone the inevitable. Hence, all the destructive behaviors that he engages in within 24 hours represent a whole human life of soft-despair, crammed into a day.

But now I would like to turn the tables on this analogy and suggest that Chev's struggle to stay alive also can represent our own struggle to stay alive, spiritually. Our souls, our life in God, is poisoned, and each moment we find ourselves drifting oh-so-easily away into secular despair; the time between each heartbeat is just a little longer.

If we care, if we in fact seek life eternal, if we seek to rage against the dying of the light, then we must fight against our own dying to the One Light. And that means prayer. And lots of it.

An important similarity between Chev's need for adrenaline and our own souls' need for prayer is that Chev was not experiencing a desire for adrenaline; he did not hunger for the stuff; it was simply necessary. It was medicine. And thus all of his desperation - for crack, for Red Bull, for vehicular speed, for violence - grew not so much out of base passions but out of a choice--to live (even if that choice can be deconstructed into the base passion for revenge). Consider the scene where Chev is faced with a wholly sober choice: I either press my hand in the waffle iron, or I die. Would that we could share that clarity of vision with respect to prayer!

Our souls crave prayer like our lungs crave air, but our souls are immaterial; their desire is made known only through the intellect, not the base passions. Thus, spiritually dead profligation is possible (though it leads to one's life participating a bit in Chev Chelios' more literal reality). Thus the choice to live, spiritually, is a sober choice, even more sober than Chev's option with the waffle iron. Sometimes the struggle to pray is a kind of spiritual waffle iron into which we must thrust our accedia, and scream as it burns and sizzles, yet only then be rewarded with the knowledge that - yes - I will live, spiritually, another day.