Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book stuff 3, Categories in evangelization and reason

Continuing on my search for the subject of my first book, it seems necessary to take the category of "reasoned evangelization" and analyze it into subcategories. Since I am not entirely sure where to begin, I'll just start somewhere and see where that takes me. Say, for example, "apologetics", which is a time-honored and classical category.

Apologetics can be taken in the broad sense to be any reasonsed defense (or pejoratively, an attack). It evokes a polemical mood, and though this is not necessarily the case, such is suggested by the very title of any classical polemical work beginning with the word "Contra".

Unfortunately, in my experience of popular (and Internet) apologetics, much of what passes for apologetics is in fact sophistry. It is often content to misrepresent contrary positions, and somtimes employs language impotent to satisfy anybody but its own champion. The temptation is for insular communities of the faithful to employ apologists who--so long out of touch with real flesh-and-blood opponents--construct fictitious enemies out of a list of supposed errors.

This points towards an important category of reason prior to apologetics: listening. Reason demands a full account of all positions, and the free mutual encounter of fully developed, mature accounts based on firm foundations. Hence it also requires a representative skilled enough to give it. There is a reason Frederick Copleston chose AJ Ayer as a dialogue partner on the subject of the existence of God; the same reason it would be better to debate Richard Dawkins than Marilyn Manson!

But listening is more than just having, understanding, and being fair to articulate opponents. Listening also requires a perspicuous perception of humanity, the heart, the world; perhaps dasein is the appropriate word. This indicates that the listener must be, if not a phenomenologist or a philosopher, at least a good student, and never an idealogue (one who latches onto, and is blinded by an idolatry to intellectual constructs). Something in the vein of C.S. Lewis.

The defect of Internet polemics is the absence of this prerequisite sympathy and innocence. It is the innocence of Socrates, which relinquishes control of the opponent's thoughts, and, trusting in the unity of truth, merely reminds her of what she already knows. He is the midwife of truth, coaching one to breathe as she gives birth to truth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book stuff, continued

But an evangelical mission does not alone determine the content of a Christian author's book. It is too broad a category. Specialization is necessary. Let us analyze "evangelization" into its various parts:
  1. Grace (this is out of my hands)
  2. Reason
  3. Delight
  4. Promise

The above list is not wholly original--I am keeping in mind St. Augustine's styles of preaching: Calm, Moderate, and Grand, which correspond to the need to educate a hostile audience; delight a friendly one; and exhort a comitted audience to action; these, in turn, correspond to the above categories of Reason, Delight, and Promise. Special thanks to Colt Anderson's book Christian Eloquence.

Within this bunch, I sense that my missionary calling lies with the hostile audience, and thus, toward an educational, calm, rational corpus. That is not to say that my works should not be delightful or offer an eschatological promise. But my mode of writing is to always anticipate the most hostile possible reader. Such an audience will not be benefitted when too much energy is devoted to delight--they will (sometimes rightly) suspect that the author is trying to swindle them with pleasant, rather than true, words. And the hostile audience is far from able to grasp the meaning or importance of a Revealed Promise.

So, let's take Reason, then, and break that down as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book stuff

I know I will write a book. It is only a question of when, and whether I will wait until I have more education under my belt before beginning. I am leaning towards "no".

My knowledge of philosophy and theology is broad but not deep. The important thing is that I know enough to know what I don't know, and where to find it. The research skills are there; the resources are there. I would have liked to develop more linguistic skills, without which I know my thoughts will not be taken seriously by major universities. However, with help, I may be able to manage.

I feel as though I have already written several books in my mind. The content of this blog is basically my "Pensees" (Blaise Pascal was the original blogger). Given that, the question is: where do I begin? I have dozens of ideas, arguments, missions, theories, metaphors, concepts, and hobby-horses. Not all of them are of equal value. Not all of them have broad applicability. Not all of them are fully developed. I don't want to start something I cannot finish. But I don't want to write ten books and feel that I haven't even started.

If I follow Understanding by Design, the first question to ask is: what do I want to accomplish? What is the effect I want to have on the reader? To which the ultimate answer is: "repent of your sins, believe in the Gospel, and be baptized." This will always be the underlying goal of anything I write.

Friday, March 13, 2009

On Facebooking...

I've had a Facebook account for years, but hardly ever looked at it. My current profile picture--the one where I look barely awake--is more than two years old, but I'm not inclined to change it. Recently (with the news about Facebook's website changes), I decided to revisit the old page, confirm all of my friend invitations, and just get invovled more often.

By the way, for those of you reading this ON Facebook, note that I can't access Facebook directly from my work computer. What you're reading is the RSS feed of my Blogspot post.

It's gratifying to see so many old friends, some of whom are now married. Some of them have changed in appearance. Some have children. It almost makes the idea of a high school reunion rather redundant--if also easier to organize (Yah, CFHS, Class of 2000!)

I also love the new connections with old acquaintances who I believed were "done with me", who perhaps I had angered in the past or allowed to drift away. Being accepted or invited to be on their friend-list is a deeply felt gesture of reconciliation (for those of you for whom this is the case, and you know who you are, thank you).

It also brings a few worries. I wonder how many of my high school buddies would take offense at my being a devout Roman Catholic, with everything that entails--including being in the anti-gay-marriage camp. That issue is a lot hotter now than it was ten years ago. We social conservatives are the nazis, slave-owners, and segregationists of the 21st century, judging by the way we're typically portrayed. Oh well.

My seminary buddies--now priests and deacons--have been especially active on here, which is nice to see. I wonder how I'm perceived, this ex-seminarian high school teacher. All of you should know that I'm jealous of your education, even while I support Mundelein's commitment to educating only prospective clergy.

So, here I am. It's nice to feel so connected, to know that I'm remembered and acknowledged, and that I'm not alone. I'm sorry I drifted away from you all, and I'm glad to have such an easy way to keep in touch.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sound Science vs. Rigid Ideology, parte due

"Promoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient -- especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda -- and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

I called it.

What is frusting about this Obama soundbyte is that it is a complete non-sequitur. Someone who didn't know any better would think that the conservative stance against embryonic stem cell research is based on the desire to "distort or conceal... scientific data" that is "inconvenient" to a "political agenda". It's as if there's some secret that ESCR would expose that conservatives want to keep secret. What? Mr. President, who is the one distorting and concealing here?

But here again we see the opposition between "sound science" vs. "rigid ideology"; in this case, "...facts, not ideology". I suspect this will be central theme of Obama's social agenda for the US. My question for him is:

Mr. President, what "facts" are the conclusive evidence that ESCR is not the inhumane exploitation of the already absurd state of these conceived human beings?

Oh, right.
“Well, uh, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or, uh, a scientific perspective, uh, answering that question with specificity, uh, you know, is, is, uh, above my pay grade.”

Well, while you're doing things appropriate to your "pay grade," why not leave such legislative decisions to the experts?