The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Friday, December 30, 2005

Narnia Review Redux

OK, I saw LWW again last night and I liked it much better the second time round. However, my impression I got when I was re-reading for my defense of Edmund that Peter was poorly portrayed was mightily confirmed. I don't know if it's the Disney Effect (where white males in traditional leadership roles are systematically denigrated) or what but Peter's excellent character in the book is muted in the movie.

One thing in particular I noticed that was changed to reflect poorly on Edmund was that when the WW is tempting him in the sled to bring his family she says "A king must have servants, mustn't he?" whereas in the book she says she will make them Dukes and Duchesses. There's a big difference between working to bring your family into servitude versus making them part of the royal court (even if you yourself will be king: Edmund's pride could make him think that it really did make sense for him to be the king rather than Peter).

I'll have to see it a few more times and I've got a few more things to check on in the book again, but the bottom line is that my impressions of the portrayal of the boys was confirmed, but I liked the move even more. I was more impressed with Aslan this time as well.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In defense of Edmund (and Peter)

Contrary to my usual practice, I have no specific thesis I'm defending. I merely wish to make remarks on Edmund's behalf to the end that those who have seen him in a more negative light than myself might see him in a better light. So no specific thesis, but a specific purpose. Forthwith:

Edmund's first words: "'Oh, come off it!' said Edmund, who was tired and pretending not to be tired, which always made him bad-tempered. 'Don't go on talking like that.'"
So this is not a flattering opening, but Lewis provides a partially exculpating reason for the remark.

Edmund's second words: "'Trying to talk like Mother,' said Edmund. 'And why are you to say when I'm to go to bed? Go to bed yourself.'"

Again, not Mister Sweetypie, but, let's face it, his sister was being bossy with "It's time you were in bed." Any one who's observed oder sisters knows they do often have an annoying proclivity toward acting as maternal second in command. I think Ed's remark was testy but fair.
After the quibble about going to bed, Peter doesn't try to boss anyone, he simply states "I shall go to bed now." He gets the kids excited about exploring for birds the next day, and Edmund joins in the excitement with everyone else.

Edmunds third remark: "'Of course it would be raining!' said Edmund.

Given that he had ended the previous night in mutual excitement about exploring the woods, I think I'd be disappointed as well. Now Lewis probably did not assign this remark to Ed at random, but the point only need be that Ed is especially sensitive, not that he is a bad person.
Note also that it's Susan who rebukes him "Do stop grumbling, Ed." And also that once again Peter is above the fray, simply stating his own intentions: "I'm going to explore in the house." Lewis continues: "Everyone agreed to this and that was how the adventures began." So the pattern of the previous day is complete: 1. Conflict between Susan and Edmund, 2. Peter's personal leadership, 3. Mutual agreement. I do wish the movie had portrayed Peter better.

Edmund's fourth remarks: [Lucy comes back and reports having been gone for hours.] "'Batty!' said Edmund, tapping his head. 'Quite batty."

Given that "The others all stared at one another" Ed seems to be voicing what others may be thinking anyway. And not that Susan chimes in "Don't be silly, Lucy" [mother hen again]. I wish to note here that again Peter is the noble one; "'She's not being silly at all,' said Peter, 'she's just making up a story for fun, aren't you, Lu? And why shouldn't she?'" I've only seen the movie once so far, so maybe I missed it, but I didn't think they portrayed this. I'm really beginning to think that Peter was not given his due.

Edmund's fifth remarks are not recorded in their particulars, but we are told that "Edmund could be spiteful, and on this occasion he was spiteful." Point against Edmund.

However, when he does enter Narnia, it isn't long before he feels bad about teasing her about what he now knows was a true story, and seeks to make amends.
Also, note that when he's asked by the White Witch--under the guise of the Queen of Narnia--1. he is under the spell of *enchanted* Turkish Delight; 2. he does not straightforwardly agree to bring his siblings to see her; 3. not only does she not say anything about harming them, she pledges to make them Lords and Ladies; 4. she explicitly says that fauns are not to be trusted, because they spread wicked lies about her. It is not as if she says "Hey, let's sock it to your stupid siblings" and he says "Yeah, let's get 'em!" The real story is entirely different.
He naturally doesn't want to believe the faun's side of the story--is there really any particularly good reason for him to do so?--and this seems to be the main explanation of his not wanting to tell the others about the events of the day: "he felt sure the others would all be on the side of the Fauns and animals". The chief fault of Edmund's seems to be that he does not like to admit that he's wrong. This is mentioned just before he finds Lucy and then in the closing of Chapter 4: "He would have to admit that Lucy had been right, before all the others." That is a serious fault which can drag a person down, but, I more than suspect, it is one which we all share. The worst I can say about Edmund is that this common bad habit was somewhat more thoroughly entrenched than in many.

The main reason I did this study was simply out of curiosity: I had a different impression than a learned and pious friend. In such cases I do not automatically trust my instincts. Also, I think there's potentially an important theological point at stake, one illustrated very well in Lewis's _Great Divorce_: the choices that lead one down the road to perdition are very subtle. To the extent that Edmund becomes a caricature, I think this truth is obscured. I'm just glad it wasn't *me* upon whom the White Witch first came! (What if it was Peter or Susan or you: would we fare much better?)

Early Christian Attitudes Toward War

I made a few inchoate remarks about how seeing Aslan kill the White Witch stirred up some latent pacifism in me and the desire to revisit some passages I recalled hazily. I've pasted the passages below. I think reflecting on these passages can play a useful role in the combination of ressourcement and aggiornamento typified by the theological method of John Paul the Great and particularly illustrated by his attitude toward war and the death penalty. (Please don't flame me, because I'm not a pure pacifist. I just think Just War Doctrine needs some retooling (both restricting and losening by the way).)

"We who formerly murdered one another now refrain from making war even upon our enemies." Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.176.

"We used to be filled with war, mutual slaughter, and every kind of wickedness. However, now all of us have, throughout the whole earth, changed our warlike weapons. We have changed our swords into plowshares, and our spears into farming implements." Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.254.

"I do not wish to be a king. I am not anxious to be rich. I decline military command". Tatian (c. 160, E), 2.69.

"These people [i.e. the Christians] formed their swords and war-lances into now they are unaccustomed to fighting. When they are struck, they offer also the other cheek." Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.512.

"The one instrument of peace is what we employ: the Word alone. We no longer use the ancient psaltery, trumpet, tembrel, and flute. For those who are expert in ware and are scorners of the fear of God were accustomed to make use of them." Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.246.

"Let our seals be either a dove, a fish, or a ship....We are not to draw an outline of ... a sword or a bow, since we follow peace." Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.286.

"We do not train our women like Amazons to manliness in war, for we wish even the men to be peaceable." Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.420.

"God puts His prohibition on every sort of man-killing by that one inclusive commandment: 'You shall not kill.'" Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.80.

"'Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will no more learn to fight.' Who else, therefore, does this prophecy apply to, other than us?" Tertullian (c. 197, W) 3.154.

"Now inquiry is made about the point of whether a believer may enter into military service. The question is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith...A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters--God and Caesar....How will a Christian man participate in war?...The disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier." Tertullian (c. 200, W), 3.73.

"Of course, if faith comes later and finds someone already occupied with military service, their case is different....Yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of the military office, which ahs been the course of many--or else all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God. And such quibbling is not allowed even outside of military service. Tertullian (c. 211, W), 3.100.

"I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians....Is it lawful for a man to come to be pledged to another master after Christ has become his Master?... Is it lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword will perish by the sword? Will the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?" Tertullian (c. 211, W), 3.100.

"Christ nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, no matter how wicked. For He did not consider it to be in accord with His laws to allow the killing of any individual whomever....For their laws do not allow them on any occasion to resist their persecutors, even when it was t heir fate to be slain as sheep." Origen (c. 248, E), 4.467.

"For we no longer take up 'sword against nation,' nor do we 'learn war any more.' That is because we have become children of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader." Origen (c. 248, E), 4.558.

"In the next place, Celsus urges us 'to help the king with all our might, to labor with him in the maintenance of justice, and to fight for him. Or if he demands it, to fight under him or lead an army along with him.' To this our answer is that we do give help to kings when needed. But this is, so to speak, a divine help, 'putting on the whole armor of God.' And we do this in obedience to the commandment of the apostle....So the more anyone excels in godliness, the more effective the help is that he renders to kings. This is a greater help than what is given by soldiers who go forth to fight and kill as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who demand us to bear arms for the commonwealth and to slay men, we reply: 'Do not those who are priests at certain shrines...keep their hands free from blood, so that they may offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods with unstained hands that are free from human blood? Even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If, then, that is a praiseworthy custom, how much more so that--when others are engaged in battle--Christians engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure.

"Our prayers defeat all demons who stir up war....Accordingly, in this way, we are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them.....So none fight better for the king than we do. Indeed we do not fight under him even if he demands it. Yet, we fight on his behalf, forming a special army--an army of godliness--by offering our prayers to God. Origen (c. 248, E), 4.667.

"A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate who wears the purple must resign or be rejected. If an applicant or a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected." recorded by Hyppolytus.


I consulted my original edition LWW and Pauline Baynes renders Aslan three or four times and he is on about the same scale as the movie, so that's one strike (I won't say how big or small) against my thesis that the movie portrayed Aslan as too small physically.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Short of it: I like the movie. Perhaps most importantly of all my intelligent, pious seven-year-old daughter loved it. As you might expect, I'm happy about the faithfulness to the book: not because I think it would have been obviously wrong to diverge in certain ways (for example unlike many of my comrades I have little problem with Peter Jackson shifting emphasis from Glorfindel to Arwen), but rather because I think the likelihood of diverging in a way which results in an improvement is low. And I think that what people want to see is not an adaptation, but, specifically, the book incarnate, so to speak. Now for some discussion.
I went into the theater with the wrong expectations. With LOTR fresh in my memory I forgot I was about to see a kids movie. As a result, I started out a little disappointed at its simplicity and the large letters in which it was written. However, I caught myself at this fairly quickly, so that did not keep me from enjoying the movie. One example of the for-kids-ness of the movie is the immediacy of the intimacy between Lucy and Tumnus. This happened far too fast for me, but that's just how kids are. They meet someone at the playground and they are instant friends. One of my best friends recently visited for the Holy Days and it was the first time my oldest had seen him. He's a friendly and funny chap and within minutes he was "Uncky Mike" and within hours he was one of her favorite people in the world. Obviously this innocence could be dangerous on this earth, but I think it is a reflection of the Communion of the Saints.
I also thought that Edmund was portrayed as too one-dimensional. He struck me as nastier than in the book and more thoroughly corrupted rather than just cross-tempered and tempted astray. Same with Peter. It seemed like there was a flashing light above his head saying "Thinks he's the boss" and above Edmund's "Bad guy." Perhaps this is due to time constraints, but my biggest complaint is lack of character development. Or, it might just be because it's a kids movie; or perhaps I'm just mistaken.
Minor criticism: Aslan was too small. A male lion can grow to nearly 600 pounds. I thought the Aslan of the film seemed not even that large, when, surely, he should have been around 800 pounds. The average male lion is over four feet tall at the shoulder and I think the Aslan of the movie was at best just that big. Again, it seems to me that Aslan would rightly be portrayed as about half-again as big. Not cartoony big, just the biggest of the big. Perhaps this assumption could be challenged. Jesus was not especially big, strong, or handsome ("He had no form or comeliness that we should look upon him...").
The thing which surprised me the most was when Aslan killed Jadis. First, I was shocked that he'd kill her at all. Not saying that my first impression was right, but Aslan attacking and killing even a great enemy when not directly in defense struck a harsh cord in my soul. Please note this is not a criticism but a confession. I suspect there's something wrong with my affections here. That worries me for my moral epistemology is basically intuitionism. That is, I think our primary way of knowing right from wrong is how we emotionally react to concrete actions. This is why it is so bad when our affections are led astray by a bad upbringing. I also thought the witch in The Silver Chair was Jadis returned, but I guess I was wrong about that. I'll have to think more about Aslan killing the witch in open battle. The idea of Jesus leading the attack in open battle seems incongruous, yet I think there are just wars, so I'm feeling some cognitive dissonance. There was some dissonance in the Early Church as well. I'll have to look into that a bit. Since I've digressed, here's a good recent article from First Things on Just War.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Market Regulation: A Plea for Sanity

From a recent online exchange in which I try to discern with those on the Left and Right of me are arguing about:

(T) The world’s poor would be better off with more regulation in the US than there currently is.

I think Hayak refutes that. The Risse paper shows that the world is a much better place than it was in 1980, despite much deregulation under Regan and in part because if US Military support strengthening political infrastructure. Still (T) is ambiguous, for suppose someone thinks, as indeed I do think, that some parts of the US economy are over-regulated and others are under-regulated, or that some areas are over-regulated in some respects and under-regulated in others. For example I think that much insurance is way over-regulated in that it does not permit Doctors to forgive debts, yet I think it is also under-regulated because I think there is price-gouging on premiums. So does that make me liberal or conservative, a (T)-defender or a (T)-detractor. From the beginning I’ve said that the whole debate if framed wrong, since framed in glittering or not-so-glittering generalities. The Devil is in the details and so if you want to root him out of the economy, I suggest you look where he resides. This is the lesson of my continual reminders that we are all at different points on the same spectrum and share essentially the same background theory. The only fruitful discussion to have is about *particular* policies. Totalitarianism and anarchism only work in Heaven (where, paradoxically, they are one) and on earth finding the sweet-spot of just enough regulation is a fool’s errand. So we are turned once again to the particulars. So I don’t have an interest in discussing generalities and I don’t have the time to discuss particulars, so I’m not going to discuss economics for now. However, I suggest that those who do consider the way they go about doing so.

Faith, Risk, and Economic Fairness

The basic idea is quite straightforward, as you might expect. Every economic resource (which includes time) that I spend bettering someone else’s life is wasted if there is no God (doing good for goodness sake is for sissies, Nietzsche and Sartre had atheism right). So if you’re not certain that God exists (if you are, wake up) and you are using your resources for others, you risk wasting them. Most of us hedge our bets, we keep considerable resources for ourselves just in case. This is not only Sartrean “bad faith” it’s also lack of faith in the Christian sense. I think the measure of faith is largely the measure of your willingness to risk wasting your resources for the sake of following Jesus. Faith is betting on God. Full faith is betting the farm. What did you risk today?

Taxes and Fairness: A Plea for Sanity

It is *highly debatable* which economic policies benefit the needy. I work with some *extremely* high level economists here at the U and the macro-economic models are very complex and often contain surprising results. Ultimately, tax policy should be set by an apolitical entity like the interest rates are at the Fed. Democrats and Republicans can agree about this: they all love Greenspan. What a disaster for the economy if interest rates were set by congress! Which tax policies best help the needy is an empirical matter and should be decided by social scientists in an apolitical manner. If income caps of a million dollars a year would best help the needy, then I’d be for them. The problem is that that’s not what the data suggests. As JFK suggested forty years ago, tax-cuts can increase revenue. This also happened under Reagan. I haven’t seen the numbers on the Bush tax-cuts yet. The idea that tax policy fairness is measured by the difference in who gets what back is, from a social science point of view, as different from economics as astrology is from astronomy. Look man, here’s the pie
What are the percentages of? They are percentages of money spent. Where does the money come from? Primarily tax revenues. So the question for those who want to use the tax policy to achieve fairness is how to get X, the total money spent, to be the biggest it can be so that .59*X is bigger. If tax cuts increase X, then they increase social spending. History has shown that this can and does happen. Some macroeconomic models show that this is almost guaranteed to happen. Maybe not, it’s highly debatable and in the end an empirical matter. It’s a really difficult issue for those of us—like myself—who believe in redistributive taxation for the sake of fairness (i.e. leveling the playing field). I’m not interested in partisan politics. I want to help the needy and I want to do it in the most effective way. If national health-care would make people better off, then I’d be for it. It’s far from obvious whether it would, it doesn’t always seem to do so in other countries. So here’s the bottom line. On certain socioeconomic issues—like taxation and healthcare—it is a matter of considerable unclearness what the best course of action is so accusing either party of not caring is childish (individual persons might have evidence brought against them). Both sides have a theory of how to help the needy: the Left’s is fairly common sense: rob from the rich and give to the poor. Maybe that will work, maybe not. The Right’s is fairly common sense: a rising tide lifts all boats. Maybe that will work, maybe not. Like most complex issues, lots of maybes. But here’s something that’s not complex, it’s simple and there are no maybes: ABORTION KILLS BABIES. I’m not about to let the things I’m NOT sure about—whether the Left or the Right is working with the better theory of economic justice—derail what I AM sure about—that abortion is murder. I vote from what I know, not from what I don’t know (I also try not to pretend I know what in fact I don’t).

How the Evidence for God Screwed up My Paper

A colleague and I were writing a paper attempting to show than many formulations of the Fine-Tuning Argument (FTA) for the existence of God was seriously flawed. The idea was that biological design arguments (BDAs)--like Dembski's--needed the probability of life arising in this universe to be unimaginably small (which he admits) in order to infer God as cause. However, FTA advocates argue that the initial conditions and fundamental laws of the universe fall within a very narrow range to permit life--an improbability along the lines of the datum from which the BDA advocate begins. But far too few FTA advocates said whether they thought the fine-tuning was precise enough to make life a sure thing, or more probable than not, or not very unlikely, or what. The problem is that if the probability of life arising in this universe given its set up is as low as Dembski says, then there's no good reason to expect God to create a universe with that set-up, so no good reason to think theism has much explanatory power with respect to such a universe (why would God, wishing to make a universe with life, make a universe in which it's incredibly unlikely that that will occur?) You can jury-rig an ad hoc hypothesis about a "whimsical" God as Jay Richardson does (also of the Discovery Institute), but this complicates the hypothesis and lowers the prior probability and thus its posterioir probability. Our thesis was that any FTA compatible with the BDA would be so weak as to offer no significant support for theism. We stargted running the numbers using a Bayes's Theorem calculator I made and we were like, "Huh, the argument seems to work, maybe we made a mistake." So we messed with the numbers a little more and grew frustrated because it was almost impossible to find values of other variables for which the weak FTA or WFTA didn't work and work quite well. I literally wrote on one draft I sent to my colleague "Damn! This argument seems to work just fine! What are we going to do now?" I think I let Publish-or-Perish mania get the better of me. I mean, I'm glad there's better evidence for God than I thought there was, but it really screwed up my paper. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Epistemic Responsibility Vignette re: Intelligent Design

So I'm doing some research the other day on different methods of measuring inductive confirmation and while going through the bibliography of the leading expert on it--Brian Fitleson--I find an article reviewing a book defending the argument from design to God's existence. It was coauthored by a guy who I knew was an atheist and raucous lambaster of the design argument--Elliot Sober. Now Sober is pretty smart, but he's so closed minded that he usually doesn't say mutch helpful. However, I'd never read Fitleson on design before and he is so freaking smart it's scary. He's just brilliant and all I've read of him is well-reasoned and balanced (I've since found a major misrepresentation of Plantinga in one of his presentations, sadly). Well, I could just click on it and read it or I could ignore it. I wasn't particularly interested because I'm not an advocate of the argument advocated in the book under review: Bill Dembski's _Design Inference_ (Cambridge University Press). Still, something made me not want to read it. I had a good excuse, I was busy working on another paper, I could always come back to it later, etc. Still, there was this nagging voice that said, "You're just afraid to read it." So I read it. It wasn't very good. It seemed to be a Sober-driven jeremiad with Fitelson brought in to handle the tough math. The conclusions were either no less speculative than the theses being advanced, trivial, or one's I'd already reached myself. No big deal. So I suppose two lessons could be drawn from this. One is that you shouldn't bother reading such stuff because you don't learn anything anyway. I really really hope you don't think that's the lesson. The other lesson you could draw, which I hope you do, is that you should not listen to that nagging voice. Read on, you have nothing to lose: if your beliefs are true, then they'll either be confirmed more or at least not disconfirmed. If you're beliefs are false, they will rightfully be disconfirmed, which is what a truth-seeker should want. This is a sort of Bayesian faith which can be questioned and caveats must be added to account for misleading evidence, but ultimately I am a man of Bayesian faith and would rather err on the side of epistemic responsibility than intellectual cowardice--testing my beliefs a little too much, even when it's not necessary, rather than to little.

Little Pro-Life Vignette or "Pro-Farmer, Pro-Life"

So I was at this trendy little natural foods store where everything was "organic" (brief aside: I really hate this term. It simply means composed of molecules including carbon. For crying out loud, gasoline is organic (octane compound) that doesn't make it safe to eat. I'm sort of a reductionist at times and I want to whip out a periodic table of the elements and say, "Look, this is all there is to the physical world: it's all made of this stuff. All but the last few are naturally occurring. Some combinations are good and some are bad, but all are natural and many bad ones are organic. Deal with it!" But I usually don't say that. There is a noun "organic" which designates fertilizer derived from animal or vegetable matter. But they don't say it's "fertilized with organic," they just wantonly use the adjective. According to the Oxford English dictionary the first use of the term in this way was in 1942 "Organic Farming & Gardening I. 3/2 Compost fertilizer is a purely organic material as distinguished from mineral fertilizers (chemicals) 1952 C. E. L. PHILLIPS Small Garden iii. 18 Compared with the chemical fertilizers, the organic ones are slow in action but enduring in effect. Ibid. 19 Of other forms of organic manure, the following are valuable. 1960 Times 27 Feb. 9/2 A good organic-based general fertilizer. 1975 D. GREEN Food & Drink from your Garden v. 38 There is probably something in the theory that vegetables have their quality improved by the use of organic fertilizers". So as you can tell this neologism was ill-conceived from its beginning, not the alleged identity between "mineral" and "chemical". Yes, "organic" fertilizers have chemicals--substance with a distinct molecular composition--which makes them "inorganic" according to this mixed-up nomenclature. It's probably better if we didn't use words so that it's so easy to contradict oneself, you think? (Yes, I'm a language enforcer, but someone has to be in this day and age). /end of digression.
So any way there I was and I must say we looked and acted the part. I had ridden in on my bike, pulling a trailer with two sandal-clad, overall-short wearing little girls in long red braids. I'd come after some very specific items, so it was clear I knew the "organic" food market. After a while, in walks this upper-middle aged Boomer obviously of the upper-middle class and she says, "Now don't forget we all need to get out and vote for Bob Holden." "Sorry," I said, "can't do it." She looked shocked, almost offended. "Well, why not, what's the matter." "I can't support a candidate who supports abortion, he's just out of the running for me. I'm pro-farmer and pro-life." The sort of looked like I'd just told them that Jesus Christ was my personal Lord and Saviour--you know, "well isn't that nice"--and quickly dispersed. During this brief exchange one of the actual Local Farmers had been delading his cargo of organic potatoes, the gnarled tubers rolling out of his milk crates into the sale bins. When I had purchased my Red-Hot Blue Cornchips and my Habenero X-treme jelly and was putting it in the bike trailer, the old dude came up to me and cleared his throat. I turned around to find him standing behind me shifting in his round-toed cowboy boots. "I just wanted to tell you that I agreed with what you said in there." "Thanks," I said, "I appreciate that." "Well, I'd better be going," and he shuffled off. I don't know if anything substantive will ever come of this, but I know it caused a few aged wood-hippies to pause to think for a bid and it encouraged an old farmer. That's good enough for me. I'm glad I spoke up (without starting an argument).

Congressional Candidate Parades Fallacies ( A True Story)

Dissociated Press - Columbia, MO This was to be a meeting of the minds. The topic: abortion. On the one side, a Gen-X philosophy grad student who values hard logic over soft hearts. On the other, a Baby Boomer with a Master's Degree in Divinity. Think you know who was arguing what? Think again. His long goatee waving as he talked, the X-man said, "It all depends on the status of fetus, if it is human, then killing it is wrong regardless of the consequences and if it is not, there's no reason to keep it 'rare' as you say." Her French-manicured hands shifted in her lap. "But 30% of conceptions abort naturally." He looks confused, "Um, I'm not exactly sure how that fits in." She straightens herself up and says "well, it just shows that not all conceptions are intended by God to come to term." He looks confused, "Um, well, I've got three things I'd like to say in response. First, I don't think that follows logically. Lots of post-natal children die every day, that doesn't mean that God did not want them to grow to old age. There are theological issues here. Secondly, even if that were true, we'd have no way of finding out *which* ones and so it would be wrong to kill in ignorance. Finally, I thought you said that you were opposed to abortion personally, but didn't want to bring religion into the public square. If so, then you can't use the theological argument you just used to make policy in the public sector." Staring expressionless for some seconds, she plied, "Well I was around in the early seventies when." He interrupts, "So was I, born in 1971, *before* Roe thank God." "Anyway," she continued, "I was around in the early seventies and old enough to remember why we need to keep abortion legal. You can't keep women from having abortions. A woman that has been raped or the victim of incest, if she feels that her life is in danger, she'll find a way to have a back-alley abortion. I prefer to keep abortion safe and legal." She had played two trump cards in one hand: "I'm older" and "the back-alley". How would he respond. "OK," he looked excited, "Let's work with that. According to the Planned Parenthood's own statistics, the categories you mentioned amount to 7% of all abortions." She steals a sideways glance at her watch. "So would you support legislation limiting abortion on demand to those categories?" She says, "Well.I mean.what I want to say is.are you sure about those statistics?" "I've got them right here on my laptop. I've got wireless internet and I'm on the Planned Parenthood website now, would you like to look?" "No," she says, "that's fine. I still think that in that other 93% are women who might be from families where having a child out of wedlock would be really frowned upon or are in financial situations where having another child would be a real burden." She sits back, looking relieved. He replies, "there may well be, but one person's convenience shouldn't be weighed against another's life. The question is what is the status of that life. If it is a human life, then other people's convenience come second." She sits up straight again, "Well I've worked in the healthcare industry for some time, so maybe I take a more scientific attitude toward the blastocyst than you do." Uh-oh, she said "blastocyst". His lips became a line, then he said, "I'm not sure why you think that, but an embryo in the blastula stage-a blastodermic vesicle, if you will, is still genetically complete. All it needs is nourishment to grow into an adult." Downcast, but not defeated, she retreated to another strategy: "But is it a *person*, does it have a *soul*?" He doesn't fall for it, "That's a good theological question, but I thought you didn't want your civic position to be based on theological considerations." She looks at her watch again, "Um, I really need to get going soon, I've got to pick someone up." "Ok, but real quick I want to comment on your last question. You ask if a blastocyst has a soul, whether it is really a 'person'. I'll admit in some sense, those are real metaphysical conundra-the sort of things people in my department argue about at length. Note this about such questions: they rarely have answers that everyone can agree on, in fact, they don't often admit of any kind of satisfactory resolution. But if that is the case, then what should we do? It might be that the metaphysicians who say it has a soul or is a person are right. It might be that the ones who say it's just tissue are right. Who knows? Right? So what should we do in the mean time? Should we destroy it, or not? *Given* that we have no way to know for sure, doesn't prudence suggest erring on the side of life? If I'm wrong, a bunch of woman miss a swimsuit season-though I think pregnant women are sexy-if you're wrong: the state-and you-are sanctioning murder. Is it worth the risk?" Her face set firmly in a smile, "Well it's really been nice talking with you, I really appreciate your time." Folks, this is a pretty darn accurate account of the conversation I had not half an hour ago when a congressional candidate came over to my house to discuss her position on abortion. I omitted several references to being "pro-woman" and all the "progress made for women in the Seventies" because I didn't feel like gagging again. How about equal rights for unborn women. That would be progress.

Evil in my Head or "Gratitude, Chance, and Providence"

Note to Reader: You may want to skip this one as it turns neurosis onto paradox and ends in mystery. It is maddeningly logical and does not have a happy ending. However, if you want a glimpse into my bizarre and somewhat tortured psyche, then, having been warned, read on.
My life is utterly idyllic. Here's just a glimpse from today. I wake up in my freshly remodeled three-bedroom bungalow and am greeted by the smiling faces of two beautiful, happy, healthy little red-haired girls. We get dressed and get on our bikes and go to Mass, just short ride away, not far from Campus (where I'm paid tens of thousands of dollars to read and talk and given a big office with amenities). After mass we ride over to the Pasta Factory and eat our fill of stuffed tortellini alfredo. Do we want dessert? Sure, why not. The afternoon is spent picking wild blackberries among yellow, white, and purple wildflowers in Grindstone Natural Area. Little lavender pails swing from pink fists as little girls run to the next trail indicating more blackberry bushes beyond. The sun is literally upon my face, the wind literally at my Irish life is the incarnation of the old Irish blessing!! Yet...I'm haunted by evil. Even in observing the perfect blessedness of my life, I'm struck with how different it is for most people. My feelings go right past gratitude to guilt. There are many routes from this to the Problem of Evil. Right now I want to explore this dilemma. Now either the guilt is appropriate or it is not. If it is appropriate, then it either has a point or it does not. Surely guilt is not pointless, just an end-in-itself meant to spoil the effect of blessing. If guilt has a point, however, then, surely it is to spur me out of complacency. Now this could be intended for either purely theoretical change--I feel more grateful for my position but don't change it substantially--or for practical change--leave my life of riches and work in solidarity with the poor. It might seem that there's a middle way out of this dilemma: give just enough to alleviate the guilt but keep the blessed life. But given that my life is over-the-top blessed giving up just a little wouldn't work. But then where's that magic line? It's probably far enough down the line to cease being a middle way out. So that leaves us with the two options: the theoretical, where I just feel more grateful and the practical where I give up my riches and live in solidarity with the poor. Before moving on to the central dilemma let's just note that the theoretical approach operates on the assumption that what I'm feeling guilty for is ingratitude, but that's just not the case. I feel guilty for not sacrificing till it hurts. So then I really *shouldn't* be picking berries amongst wildflowers, I should be living in solidarity with the poor. But then it seems I shouldn't be grateful for all the "blessings" because I shouldn't have them. Whatever I've been given has been given to me merely as a conduit for others. It's like someone gives you $100 bucks to give to a friend and you say "Gee, thanks! You're so nice!" It doesn't make any sense.

Faith is Risk (The Deepest Lesson I've Learned)

[Note to Reader: This is a very personal post and the most important one I've ever made. It represents the greatest drama of my life this far and it determines how I live my life on a daily basis. I may never learn a more important lesson and I wouldn't be surprised if most of my life's work is simply expanding on or mining the depths of this truth.]]

> [Trent Dougherty] ...The proposition
> (U) I am called to make my life a resource
> for others.
> Seems to me to be true of all Xns. So if you think
> it's true to, is the
> problem the *effect* it has on your psyche? For
> example, I fear that God
> will hit me where it hurts the most, my family, just
> to test me. I think
> the proposition
> (W) God has a right to call home whom he
> wants when he wants.
> Is probably true, but I resent the possible
> intrusion into my life so much
> it is a barrier between myself and God, it makes me
> fear and loath Him. I
> also think the proposition
> (E) God is free from moral reprobation for
> all actual evils.
> is true, but I still fear and loath Him for allowing
> those evils. Is your
> problem with (U) like my problem with (W) and (E)?

[Trent Dougherty] OhthankGod! This was the only point in all the conversation where I really felt like I understood. I recall wishing I’d just ended the message here because it somewhat fell apart at the end.
It's basically the idea that what I fear
most will automatically be required from me, by
definition. I'm not really sure why. It's just this
reverse psychology game I've got going, because I'm
afraid that i really do look on God as a torturer most
of the time. I would never complain against him, mind
you, and I agree (with you) that God is free from
moral reprobation for all actual evils, but I really
must say that I do not look on God as a benevolent
figure at all. I really don't know why this is (it
wasn't always this way), but it is becoming
increasingly MORESO.
[Trent Dougherty] I have no solution, but I’m in there with you. As I think I said, the thing that works for me and has helped me define the concept of faith is realizing that IF Xnty is true, then what Paul says in his letter to the Romans is correct, these are the verses I live by, cling to, no written words speak to me the way the following passage does (read it slowly, because I want you to memorize it in the translation of your choice):

15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.[7] And by him we cry, "Abba,[8] Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Future Glory 18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[9] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. More Than Conquerors 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[10] who[11] have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."[12] 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[13] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I’m willing to risk all my potential Earthly happiness on that truth…or at least I endeavor to be willing to risk it. My faith is measured to the degree that I actually do risk it. Whether we make the wager is up to us.

We Have No Right to Happiness (From a Conversation)

[Trent Dougherty, on the badness of the year] ...I
do >think
> that it's meaningful that good will come out of it.
> > I just see it as the utter redeemability of all
> things. There's nothing
> that can happen in your life that God can't turn
> around and bless you and
> others with. Is that still as bad?
No, again, it's just that I'm not even vaguely
convinced that things that happen to me are ever meant
to bless ME.

[Trent Dougherty] First, that gets the matter the other way round. Part of what I’ve been suggesting is that the thesis that
*The Question “What’s in it for me?” is—in the end— irrelevant.
And I was trying to discern whether at least your higher/inner self believes that. Second, you totally changed the issue by bringing intention into it with the term “meant.” My thesis that
(TPT) There's nothing> that can happen in your life that God can't turn> around and bless you and> others with.
doesn’t assume any specific purpose to the events of life at all. I said that whatever “happens” to you is something God can redeem and bless you. I think you’ve seen the thing Rog and I are doing in outdoor education. When I lead a trip, there is a very very general purpose: to foster a community of learners. But what happens to us is—let’s just assume—a matter of chance. Does it rain on us, snow on us, hail on us, does someone fall in a climb, does a canoe tip over, does someone go into anaphylaxis over a bee sting, does someone get bitten by a snake, is there an avalanche, a rockslide, equipment failure. A million things could happen that I don’t have any control over and which aren’t planned by me or—let’s assume—God. They are all “pointless” in and of themselves. We have thrown ourselves into this mess because we believe there is something ennobling in doing battle with chance, in forging on come what may. The one thing we are in control of is how we react. This is not stoicism at all, because we seek to change things, not merely accept them. In good Norse fashion we’re willing to go down on the right side fighting all the way. By the end of the journey, our struggles have made us who we are. It’s just a microcosm of life. The main difference being—it seems—that we didn’t choose it, God threw us in. [Perhaps we did choose it actually or perhaps all that matters is that—to use Douglas Adamsy grammar—it will be the case that we would have chosen it had we known. This world is a trial, a trek, a quest. Like Frodo, there may be no Shire’s rest for us in Midguard, no blessing for us. To borrow a phrase from a Lewis title, we have no right to happiness. Except that it is a blessing to, on, for us to suffer for others. This was Christ’s joys. Think of it. No feet were ever more capable of enjoying the feel of the earth under them; no eyes more able to appreciate the sun setting of the Mediterranean. We think often—though not often enough—of the passion of Christ, what he suffered, but we hardly ever think of the joys he had to forego. Perhaps that was the worst part His Mission. Think of what he and John and Peter could have done together. This is True Doctrine at work: the hypostatic union. Jesus was *fully* human. He gave up the chance to enjoy Himself like no other human being who has ever or will ever exist. He didn’t live for this life: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?...into thy hands I commit my spirit…It is finished.” If all our life is filled with self-sacrifice for the sake of others we will be fortunate enough to have lived a Christlike life, the greatest blessing of all. It’s not different than what Paul says about being conformed to the image of Christ in his suffering, “Consider it all joy…” All easier said than done, to be sure, but unless we are firmly committed to these guiding truths, we may fail in the quest. We are headed to the fire of Mount Doom: all plans after that are uncertain.

My America (Independence Day Post)

OK, I’m one of those people who is constantly harping about the evils of materialism and consumerism and railing on the way the US has become one Big Tool of multinational corporations and all that. I’ve challenged people with the fact that the people we think are the bad guys think we are the bad guys and are just as convinced as we are. I remind people of what we did to the American Indian and remind them that the abortion holocaust in the US numbers three times that of Stalin and Hitler combined. I’ve made the parallels between the modern US and Rome Before The Fall. But I’ll tell you this God bless it: I work part time and live like a king. I’ve never had to worry about food, drink, or shelter a day in my life. I take my kids to the park and they run free. Free of charge, free of worry, with bright, promising futures. It is for that reason that I stand up straight when I see the Stars and Stripes, that I make eye contact with and smile at all service personnel I see, that I cry when I hear the national anthem. So yes, at the end of the day, I love my country and think it is the greatest nation on Earth. It is, of course, for this very reason that I challenge the forces that would destroy it from the inside (secular ideology, materialism, consumerism), which are probably greater than the threats from the outside. But we are in a time when even we critics need to assert our right-minded patriotism. Furthermore, I am not so selfish as to want Liberty and Justice for my own kids, I want it for all kids from the American Samoa to Zimbabwe and everywhere in between—including Iraq.

“He’s Real”: Christology out of the mouths of babes…

Even though I’m a big fan of Greek, Norse, and other mythology, I had not included it in my daughter’s education yet (she just turned five). Though I let her read Frog and Toad and Aesop’s Fable’s and things under the general heading of fairy tale, I just didn’t want her to get the wrong idea about the term “god”. This is part of a general obsession I have with the real and, to a lesser extent, the factual. If you ask her who Santa Claus is, she will tell you quite clearly that it is the Germanic form of the name of Saint Nicholas who was a Fourth Century Bishop of Myra. I’m not sure if she’s heard of the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. Come, come, no pish-posh about “denying her her childhood” or other nonsense. The attempt to systematically deceive children about what exists and what does not is not only a particularly pernicious form of lying, it just sets the stage for all of those comparisons with God made by opportunistic atheists. A sense of the Really Real is important for Children. Those who know me know I’m a huge fan of Fantasy. They’ve heard me say that Middle Earth is more real than the Mid-Atlantic. I read Fantasy to my children and let Fiona read whatever fantasy she wants (you’ve guessed by now that she’s homeschooled. Most welfare school children can’t read much at five and don’t much if they can). However, she knows that there are no fairies which run through the woods and she knows that trees can’t see and hear her. She knows, in her own way, that these things symbolize the truth that everything in the natural world is imbued with spiritual meaning in consequence of being created by God. Anyway, if you don’t know me personally and could thus possibly misinterpret me as some Puritan in the vain of Chaucer’s Parson, then email me at Trent "at" Dougherty "dot" net to be set straight. Anyway, one of the neatest things recently has been her discernment of what is real and what is not. I suspect this process was initiated during our Fall Break when—before heading into the Hercules Glades Wilderness—we stopped by Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, MO to see the museum and tour the house. We had just finished the Little House series (14 books in all) and Fiona had read the kids' versions. The LH series is one of my favorites and its ethos is deeply ingrained in my consciousness. Fiona said something that indicated that she didn’t think there really was a Rocky Ridge Farm or a Laura or a Rose. I assured her that there were and that she was seeing it before her very eyes and began to relay stories which related to objects in sight. From that point on, she began trying to disambiguate which characters were real and which were not. “Daddy, was there really a Beauty and the Beast?” “No babe, that’s a story made up to remind us not to judge people by their outward appearance.” “Daddy, was there really a Sleeping Beauty?” “No babe, that’s just a story people made up to remind us that…well…I’m not sure what the point is, but there probably is one.” “Daddy, was there really a George Washington?” “There sure was, babe, I’ve been to his house and saw where he lived. [Aside: I really look forward to questions about George Washington an the Cherry tree and about Legends (as distinct from Fairy Tales) such as Cinderella and Arthur which have varying degrees of historical basis covered in layers of embellishment. That will be interesting.] So anyway, we’re sitting on the porch today and I’m holding a globe explaining how tornados form (we’ve had lots of Tornado watches lately). Afterwards I was just giving a general geography lesson and I happened to point to the Holy Land and say that that was where Jesus was born. She made a (very) thoughtful face and said, “Huh, he’s real.” I blinked. A year passed. I blinked again. “Yeah babe, He is. He had a Mommy and Daddy like you [I didn’t say “just” like you what with the virgin birth and all]. He wore sandals and went to church and liked fish. He laughed a lot, but sometimes he cried.” I’ve spilled much digital ink defending the historicity of the life of Christ and his miracles, especially the Resurrection. I have done so because it makes a difference. If the Gospels are a fairy tail or, at best, a legend, about an ancient Jew, then we might draw the usual morals, but there’d be no hope. Paul said it all,
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Pascal was perhaps the first to form a trilemma based on the Apostolic testimony. He says—in essence—that the Apostles were either deceived, deceivers, or declarers of the truth [it’s in the Pensees somewhere, but I’m writing in the park and don’t have my marked copy to hand]. One just can’t be deceived about seeing a crucified man eat fish and people don’t die in large numbers for a known lie (people die for lies every day, but b/c they think they are true). He’s real. Thus, so is our forgiveness and hour hope for eternal live is a reasonable one (1 Peter 3:15). Now the key is to live consistently with this. I think we too often live as if its just a pious legend. We utter platitudes and so forth, but we don’t risk anything on it. What have you risked on his reality lately?

The Human, Reason, and Human Reason

So suppose you come to think that the application of human reason to the problems of the world is in most cases futile. Suppose you think that it is folly and hubris to try to "understand" the world, whether through philosophy, hard science, social science, or whatever. What have you left? What I want to suggest is that what you have left is a choice between nihilism and faith. Nihilism acquiesces in the absurdity of life and underwrites a lot of literature and film (but mostly people reading fashionable magazines in fashionable coffee houses in university towns). Nihilism is, I think, a failure of nerve, a form of cowardice. I do have some respect for true Nietzscheans, I would have made a good one myself. Sadly most nihilists suffer from a serious lack of nerve and basically go mystic (Thomas Nagal's book on the meaning of life is a good example. I also think of what Bertrand Russell self-describingly said of Marx: that "he had a cosmic optimism only theism could justify"). If one maintains one's faith in the intelligibility of the universe (remember that ex hypothesi we have lost our faith in science as the final arbitrar of intelligibility) I think one must rest upon the reliability basic human intuition (think Thomas Reid here). We are persons and we ultimately understand the world from the inside out as persons. This includes science. The fundamental explanans of science is causation. Our understanding of of causation comes from understanding ourselves as agents in the world bringing about change. (In terms of rationality of theism Plantinga's God and Other Minds comes to mind here.) I may not be able to solve semantic paradoxes, but I know when my wife is angry with me or when I have hurt my daughter's feelings (and I know what I need to do about both (note the uselessness of ethics here, I don't need to be told what I need to do, I just need motivation to do it). I - being human - understand the human. Being a reflective human I understand that the human predicament is inherently paradoxical and mysterious. (here again Pascal or Wendell Berry's "Life is a Miracle") Being human I understand that this points to the divine in a way that science can also point but not capture (not measure, weigh, contain). Now all too often this line of thought ends in some Emersonian transcendentalism or vague, sticky Romanticism (Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress description of romanticism comes to mind here). I think, though, that the human is the key to history as well. I could blog for hours about historical explanation, but suffice it to say I think the key is the human. One can get inside the heads of historical figures in a way undergraduates never dreamed of (I'm thinking here of the "How do you know what they thought, you weren't there" objection). I know because I am human. I am, therefore I think. When you look to history, as one should, to see if anyone has spoken about the human predicament, one figure stands out: Jesus of Nazareth. Kreeft points out that if you take two distinctions -- that between the sages and the non-sages and those who have claimed unique divinity and those who have not -- the only sage to claim to be Deus is Jesus. Socrates didn't, Siddhartha, didn't. Moses and Mohamed only claimed to be prophets. Jesus claims to be YHWH. When I read the story of Jesus, even just as if it were a novel, I humanly understand that this character was neither fool, fooled, nor maker of fools, except of course in that beautifully ironic sense of Paul's. So, if asked why I'm a Christian, I may well answer: "it's only human." [N.B. There may be a Reidian defense of science, but I don't think it has much plausibility. I think the Reidian stuff only works for basics and I don't find the superstructures supportable from the basis Reidian foundationalism provides. (I can, however, see a much less ambitious science based on Reidian principles. I've even sketched one myself.) I suppose one could say that losing one's faith in science/philosophy is itself a failure of nerve, but A. I think its simply an inductive inferences from the history of science/philosophy and B. the only grounds I can see for it are theistic (see Whitehead, Tennant, and Plantinga's naturalism argument).]

Reason, Paradox, and Religion

I think I have finally settled down to a dissertation topic. I still think the previous two outlines will make a couple of good books, but are very big projects, too big for a dissertation. Most of my graduate work has focused on paradoxes: knowability paradox, lottery paradox, paradox of the preface, sorites paradox, liar paradox, various semantic and logical paradoxes of set theory, ship of Theseus paradox, and several other puzzles about spaciotemporality (problem of co-location, problem of the many [even Ethics has been explored primarily as a puzzle about the consistency of liberty, justice, and equality] ). Paradoxes are interesting and easy to write about, but very hard to say anything original on (a blog is due about originality for sure) because they've been studied to death by some of the smartest people in philosophy and for thousands of years in the case of the ancient puzzles. About the best one can reasonably hope for is to find a new perspective from which to view the paradox that hopefully makes some slightly tweaked version of a proposed solution look a little better. To expect to solve the problem would be folly (a blog due about that as well) but one can hope to add to the reasonableness of one or another attempt. Incrementalism is the order of the day. I'm all for path-breaking and paradigm shifting, but that's the exception, not the rule and bold attempts are often merely foolish (the foolishness that rushes in where Angels fear to tread) and full of hubris; they are bad for philosophy for they are often wild-goose chases. (from just perusing the Harvard U. Press catalog "pathbreaking" seems to be the catchphrase of reviewers these days) Anyway, one cumulative effect of studying philosophy via paradox is a sense of the limitations of human reason. At the very core of logic and metaphysics are pernicious paradoxes. The most basic levels of logic seem to yield flat-out contradictions. In the hands of the irresponsible it would be fuel on the fire of "Eastern" ways of thinking (remind me to blog on that mess as well). My disdain for that sort of hackneyed psychobabble makes me very cautious in advancing my own form of mystical response to the paradoxical. For I do think there is a religious lesson to be learned from the limitations of human reason to sound the depths of reality (for a meandering but fascinating study of the paradox consisting of our ability to comprehend our own incomprehension and understand ourselves less than anything else see famed existential novelist Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos or for classic treatment, Pascal's Pensees). I have been secretly developing this view for some years. In the 90's I came up with the term "Thomysticism" (mysticism for Thomists), the idea being that the true mystics are not the ones who are too lazy to distinguish between muddy waters and deep waters, but rather the ones who take human reason absolutely as far as it can go and only then turn themselves over to the Other. Aquinas -- unfairly branded a rationalist due to the over-anthologizing of his proofs for the existence of God -- was a mystic himself. For years one of my web-handles was "Nilnisite" which was a syncopation of "Nil nisi te" the phrase reportedly uttered by Aquinas when Jesus, in a vision, asked him what he would like as a reward for his faithful service. After this, he said his theological works were "as straw". OK, now for the bottom line. The upshot of the systematic study of philosophy (or science or psychology) is a lot of uncertainty. Fortunately, there is a logic of uncertainty which Pascal pioneered (yes it has its own paradoxes: Newcombe's paradox, St. Petersburg Paradox, Two-Envelope Paradox, etc.). Now Pascal famously (or infamously) thought that God was the best bet in uncertainty. In short, I think he is right and aim to defend the "Wager" in my dissertation. Most of the critiques of it are either trivial or totally misguided. I have excellent faculty for such a dissertation and am fine with becoming known as Pascal's arch-defender. He had it right on so many levels (for an introduction to Pascal I highly recommend Peter Kreeft's Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's Pensees). I may end up having to write on one of the paradoxes of the logic of uncertainty for the sake of brevity (I could really get carried away by Pascal) but look for this (the unavoidable role of uncertainty in human thought) to be a theme in my thought for the duration.

On being elected Catholic

Yes you heard that right. Last night I was elected a Roman Catholic. Ironically (and deliciously) being elected in the Catholic Church has nothing to do with democracy (as it literally does in protestant churches. I remember being elected a Baptist: I gave my profession of faith and then the Preacher turned to the audience (that's what protestants call parishioners) and ask them to applaud if they accepted (if there is not overwhelming applause, then it goes to a secret vote, kind of like in congress (how embarrassing if the don't applaud, but more on that later)). Anyway, being "elected" means being "chosen" (from Greek eclego (sorry if you don't have a Greek font). Like in the Calvinist ***shudders*** doctrine of election - only one vote matters: God's. Well, when you go through the Rite of Election, there's only one vote that matters: the Bishop's. Now I can just hear the apoplectic shock some Protestants will go into on the parallelism between God and the Bishop, but that's just the point. That's why Bishops (and by extention Priests) are called "Vicar" in England, they are the Vicar of Christ (or the one who stands in his place, compare the doctrine of the "vicarious atonement" Jesus dieing in our place). [If the apoplexy has now shifted to the "one mediator" thing, , so this doesn't turn into a debate.] The Apostles carried the torch for Christ. Now it would be absurd (in my humble opinion) for the process to just stop there (this is what Protestants call dispensationalism, the magic cut-off line between the "Apostolic Age" and whatever today is. This is the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. It's no good appealing to the Bible for two reasons: 1. There was no authoritative canon (official list of books) for hundreds of years after the death's of the Apostles. 2. When there was such a list it came from the Bishops! Well, the long and short of it is that now I'm officially within that ancient fold of followers of Christ who trace their lineage in an unbroken chain through the Apostles to Christ Himself. It was a long time in coming (14 years from when I began study) but it feels good to be at Home in Rome.

Parental Paranoia? (From an email to a former student)

parents would sometimes question me for having students read works like Neitzche or Russell's "Why I'm not a Christian" and such things, b/c they feared the effects it might have on the their children (reasonable so in many cases). In some ways, though, what they really should have been worried about is their kids NOT being aware of these guys and their ideas and then falling prey to them in college, as so many do. Weak arguments make weak minds. Weak minds make weak hearts (you can't muster much courage for what you don't really believe). Weak hearts make weak Christians. Thus, it is a service to the Christian community to make strong Christians by giving them strong hearts by giving them strong minds by giving them string arguments. The best way to strengthen an argument is to attack it wherever it can be attacked. It's a win-win situation. Either the argument withstands the attack or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then you win by getting rid of a weak argument on your own and not embarrassing yourself before an unbeliever. If it does withstand the attack, then you win by having warranted confidence in the argument and by being in a better dialectical position to defend it. So I think a way to make class more exciting AND be of service to the community is to vigorously attack any potential weakness you see in an argument (just be sure to go after the premise, not the person).


There are too many blogs. For that reason I've done a newsletter for years instead. However, I was worried someone else would steal the name of my newsletter--"Counsel of Trent"--and so I'm going to post some of my favorite comments from my newsletter here and start recording things that in the past I had to copy into bunches of different emails. So. Sorry for the additional blog, but it will save me a *lot* of time and it might save some other people some time as well as I hope to pass on resources I find useful.