Dr Freud Sketched to Eastern Sensibilities

Dr Freud famously sketched the person as consisting internally as ego, super-ego and id. In Eastern Orthodox tradition you find discussions of nous, spirit and soul. Nous is your intellect, your soul motivates you to action … and the spirit is your moral sense and decision making processes. Not entirely dissimilar to the Freudian breakout (and my definitions are inexact … as all such definitions by necessity are). Take that in conjunction with the difference in personhood on East/West and there’s grist for some thought (again rougly West locates person in attributes of the individual and the East personhood is defined by his/her relationships).

In part this means “spirituality” in the Eastern lexicon has very little to do with new age touchy-feely notions … but something completely different. Of what relevance.

Well, Lent begins in mid-March for the East, and I’m going to read this book for Lent. I’ll be blogging about my progress through it and this difference noted came from the introduction.

Secular vs Religion and the Public Square

On and off again I refer to the little book published that consists of the debate between Jurgen Habermas (eminent German philosopher) and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict). The title of this book is Dialectics of Secularization. Mr Habermas opens, sets the stage and gives a brief argument (streching 30 pages of a small format book) … and Cardinal Ratzinger replies in like length. This book is published by Ignatius Press (2006) and is quite inexpensive (and available on Amazon). It was, of course, originally published in German.

The Question:

Does the free, secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whetherthe democratic constitutional state can renew from its own resources the normative presuppositions of its existence; it also expresses the assumption that such a state is depenedent on the ethical traditions of a local nature.

Mr Habermas takes the affirmative, and of course Mr Ratzinger the negative. Continue reading →

Moving Into Late Modernity … an Introduction

The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century: An Essay On Late Modernity by Chantal Delsol, a french contemporary philosopher seems like a very interesting book. Ms Delsol self describes herself as a neo-liberal. This book came up in a search of book in the “Library of Modern Thinkers” series which summarizes the currents of thought of (mostly conservative and libertarian) important political, economic and philosophical figures. This book is very much different in that it is a (striking it seems) essay by one of these figures and not another author or expert summarizing and putting their works in perspective. Over the next few weeks (months?) I’m going to examine, hopefully chapter by chapter, the topics and ideas presented in this book.

In the introduction (chapter 1) Ms Delsol poses following, “Imagine and heir who has just been informed that his inheritance consists of a trunk full of serpents.” This is how she presents our present inheritance from the turbulent 20th century. The 20th century began with hope and a looking for great promise of the future and is ending with shame over totalitarian excesses. Ours is an age which is rejecting hope.

She also suggests why this age might be termed “late modernity” in particular to call to mind particular parallels with late antiquity. Like (Western) Rome of late antiquity, our society shows similar signs of aging in its arts. Late antiquity had “an affirmation of art without meaning, literature which was simultaneously pretentious and trivial, and a dwindling population.” Hmm. Sound familiar?

There is yet, one idea which had sprung forth in late antiquity which still remains, perhaps wounded and ailing today, that offers promise. The idea of the dignity of individual man remains. This idea had come under assault in the 20th century, notably in the totalitarian regimes but in other venues as well. Ms Delsol offers in what follows a clarion cry for the necessity of preserving this core principal.

On Science and Method

The Galileo/Copernican and the Ptolemaic views of the solar system lay in dispute for the 150 years between Galileo and Newton (specifically between the dates of the publication of Copernicus De Revolutionibus and Newton’s Principia). In the period of time between these events, with the possible admission of Kepler’s third law) there were no facts to distinguish these theories. In fact, glancing far to the future, the negative results of the Michelson-Morley experiment demonstrating that the Earth was at rest would have been a point to the Ptolemaic not Copernican view. The scientific (heuristic) passions of the proponents of the Copernican view is what drove the outlook of astronomers to the point where at the publishing of the Principia the Copernican viewpoint was dominant. Attached to the prologue of Galileo’s thesis was a forward by Osiander expressing the point that this view was not necessarily “true” but instead was a “fruitful” way of approaching astronomy. This is a red herring. Ptolemaic astronomy was a fruitful source of inquiry for thousands of years. Astrology has been fruitful employment for 2500 years, Marixism was (and remains alas)
a fruitful mechanism for obtaining political power. Fruitful by itself is not sufficient. Theories are fruitful in that they are believed to be fruitful mechanisms for getting to the truth of reality.

In 1914 TW Richards was awarded the Nobel prize for an extremely accurate measurement of atomic weights. Fifteen years this result was completely scorned as useless, for as that measurement made no allowance for isotopic ratios those painstaking measurements were rendered useless. This was a measurement, of high accuracy, of a value that was discovered to have no correspondence to any features of nature. Accuracy qua accuracy is of no value. One misconception about science is that it is experiment that drives progress. Yet it is theory that is required before experiments to provide the basis for how experimental data is interpreted and in fact for what experimental data is deemed to have any value at all.

New visions and insights drive theoretical breakthroughs. Yet the history of science is littered with far more failures than success. This is not limited to “lesser scientists”. Einstein’s vision following Mach imagined Relativity and against Mach solved Brownian motion. Yet Einstein same said vision rejected quantum randomness. Major theoretical breakthroughs in science require a major reworking of our view of nature, a replacing of an older view with a newer one. Proponents of the new, driven by their heuristic passionate belief in the correctness of their vision, must pursuade on the basis of future intimations of fruitfulness in the search for truth of their vision. In doing so, they also must invalidate the older vision. This process of invalidation is often rancorous and ugly. This “feature” is common and perhaps not easily escapable.

This then suggests some striking things about the scientific process. Theory preceded and both validates and interprets experiment. Major theoretical breakthroughs require persuasion. The passion of scientific discovery must be transformed and moved to the passion of persuasion that the new vision of the truth has intimations that it might be fruitful for further deepening of our understanding of nature. Yet a problem remains. Is there anything left? What differentiates the project of chasing the structure of matter at CERN and Fermilab from astrology? Why was it right for the Copernican view to supplant the Ptolmaic in the period between Copernicus and Galileo and before Newton? There are good answers to these questions but that will have to wait until a later essay.

The first parts of this essay draw heavily on Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge which is an epistemological inquiry looking toward a “post-critical reality” epistemic framework. It might also be noted, this book predated Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Critical reality is the idea that our physical theories accurately represent reality. This is in contrast to the Positivist (which is not as far as I can tell the same as Logical Positivism). This view espoused for example by Stephen Hawking suggests that the question of whether the underlying matches the theory is irrelevant and that physics (or theory in general) merely is a mechanism for predicting experimental results.

Looking Back at the March Forward

I’ve begun reading John Behr’s (so far) two volume series (three are reported as planned) subtitled Formation of Christian Theology. The first volume, in soft cover from SVS Press, is entitled The Way to Nicaea. This books covers aspects of the formation of Christian theology, focusing on the development of the answer to Jesus query to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Volume 2 is split into two books and covers in some detail the controversies surrounding the two councils which developed the Nicene creed.

The first chapter of this book begins with a look at how the Scriptural canon for the Christian church developed and was set. There were a lot of alternative canonical choices at the end of the second century when the canon was set. But the result, to summarize Behr, was that two key criteria were used to select what books and epistles were included in the New Testament canon. They are that the books chosen were “according the the Scriptures” and that the cross (the passion) was central. The phrase “according the the Scriptures” meant specifically that the acts and narrative account in the selected book connected these actions with the accounts and prophecies of the Old Testament. This meant that books like the Gospel of Thomas and other gnostic works were excluded. Behr defends his interpretation of this development of canon by examining the methods and arguments used by St. Irenaeus in discussing various heresies of his day at the close of the 2nd century.

David Schraub blogging at the Debate Link, dislikes the term “Judeo-Christian”. This term admittedly can be misused. The above historical notes demonstrate how this term is at the same time correct and how the traditions diverged. For certainly in the context of investigating first and second century theological currents and ideas that term is relevant. Throughout the first century the majority of Christians were Jews who felt that Jesus was in fact the awaited Messianic figure, the fulfillment of Scriptural promise. At the same time, there is here a key difference which will form the basis possibly for the contention that this term does not make sense. Christians over the centuries following embarked on a program to reinterpret the Jewish Scriptural canon through the “lens of the cross”, i.e., via the life and passion of Jesus. That is they re-examined and reinterpreted, often as “type”, events and prophecies of Scripture to be interpreted specifically in the context of Jesus message, and his crucifixion and resurrection. Christian theology at the end of the second century defined itself and its theological methods in the light of Jewish writing. At the same time however, it was beginning to highlight the differences by beginning a program of returning to and examining that same canon in a radically different way (although it might be noted that “different” way was himself a 1st century Jew).

Wing to Wing: A Reload

Recently I suggested returning to reading through an excellent book on marriage. Hopefully, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be blogging my way though in exhaustive detail through the book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. This is a repost of some introductory remarks about this book and then look ahead, via the table of contents at what is in store for us over the upcoming weeks.

Leon Kass, by virtue of his tenure on the President’s Committee on Bioethics has become a somewhat polarizing figure. I had the distinct pleasure of having him teaching a class at the U of Chicago some few years ago in a class on .. of all things, ethics and science. He was (and still is) an amazing discussion leader. His ability to “sum up” and hone in and restate the jumbled thoughts of undergraduates. His wife Amy was even more sought for her courses by those Humanities and Social Thought undergraduates.

This book is not what one might expect. It doesn’t put forth any particular viewpoint in any obvious way. The majority of this book comprises a collection of essays or short excerpts bequeathed to us as part of the heritage of Western civilization. For example, contributing essays or excerpts are drawn from: Darwin, Erasmus, Keirkegaard, Homer, Herodotus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Tolstoy, and Frost. The structure of this book is as follows, after a short introductory remarks, the readings and discussions are drawn up in seven larger/basic sections:

  1. Where are we Now? This section is comprised of essays by modern critics, anthropologists, and scholars who examine and critique the state of modern courtship and marriage. Contributors are Stone, Bailey, Bloom, and Blankenhorn. Arguably this might be the most controversial or biased section of the book.
  2. Why Marry?The book then pushes forth with a firm defense of the institution of marriage. Contributors range through history: Darwin, Aquinas, Erasmus, Bacon, Austen, Keirkegaard, Tucker, Meilaender, Borowitz, and Muir.
  3. What about Sex?Next, sexuality itself is examined via writings of Homer, Genesis, Rousseau, Herodotus, Kant, Riezler, and May.
  4. Is this Love?What is this (little) thing we call love? Answers are sought from Divakaruni, Plato (2 contributions from the Symposium, The Song of Songs, De Rougemont, Shakespeare (2 entries), Rousseau, Rilke, and Lewis.
  5. How Can I find the Right One?If Marriage is good, and love is a thing we are beginning to have a glimmer of understanding, Courtship must be considered. Advice from Miss Manners (Martin), Genesis (2 entries), Abraham, Pitt-Rivers, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Rousseau, Tolstoy, and Austen is on offer.
  6. Why a Wedding?When one considers wedding, May, De Rougemont, a variety of wedding ceremonies and vows are included (including Anglican, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim, and “Contemporary” vows), and an essay by Kass and Kass on the patronym.
  7. What Can Married Life Be Like?Finally, what are the blessings one might obtain in marraige? These include contributions from: Homer, Aristotle, Jewish Midrash, Kipling, Ballou, de Toqueville, Rousseau, Capon, Tolstoy, and Frost.

In each of chapters, each of the readings is introduced by a very short (page or less) introduction explaining the context of the reading selected, why it was selected and perhaps some assistance in understanding how the writer operates if the dialectial methodology is unfamiliar to most, e.g,. the formalized dialectical methods of the scholastics as is used in the example drawn from Aquinas. Continue reading →

A Possible Avenue

Considering the amount of discussion that an offhand comment on fidelity and monogamy stirred up, I’m considering returning to a chapter by chapter overview/discussion of what I feel is the hands down best book on the subject of relationships, dating, and marriage. Namely the compilation by Amy and Leon Kass entitled Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying.

This book is not polemical or one which takes any position in particular. The purpose of the collection is not to drive the reader to any particular conclusion but instead provide a resource of thoughtful discourse on the insights of the great thinkers of the past on the subject. In that vein, it follows more in the line of a Great Books approach, and comprises with a few exceptions a fairly complete series of excerpts collected from the Western Canon which deal specifically with courtship, romance, and marriage. Each excerpt includes a brief half page to one page introduction describing the piece, providing some thoughts to motivate the reader, and in some cases assist the reader to penetrate the stylistic methods employed by the author. Contributors include Rousseau, Aquinas, Darwin, Shakespeare, and many more.

I began that endeavor a year or more ago but set it aside, should I return to it? Would that be interesting?

Personal Knowledge: Science and Objectivity

In reading Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, he begins with a critique of the notion of objectivity in science. To examples are instructive although he provides some others. I’ll try to summarize briefly. The first concerns the Copernican notion of solar vs geo centrism as a view that this is “more objective” and therefore that is the reason for its predominance. The second example is the account of Einstein and his development of Special Relativity and its relationship to the Michelson-Morely experiments on motion and ether (below the dreaded fold). Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: Aquinas on the Benefit of Marriage

Well, I was hoping to read through this book as a regular series, but at long last I’m returning to it. However, my ability to stick to a schedule should be doubted enough that I will, this time, not attempt to assign such essays to a “day of the week”, but instead when I get time. But this means we can (finally) continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays.

This weeks essay is from the section entitled “Why Marry.” This the second selection from this section is drawn from the writings of Thomas Aquinas. It makes for an interesting read, if nothing else, but for the dialectical methodology, which hearkens to a perhaps less busy more careful age. Aquinas argues or reasons in the following way:

  • A thesis is proposed
  • Then enumerated objections are raised. These objections are all the objections that might (or have) been raised against the thesis.
  • Next, he provides his answer
  • And finally he answers the objections each in turn.

We continue below the fold. Continue reading →

The Bottom Billion: Trap #2

Recently, I began recounting the four traps in The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, by Paul Collier which is about the very poor on our globe. Mr Collier notes four traps keeping the very poor where they are. In this essay, below the fold, I will continue with trap #2 and the notions (less counter-intuitive notions here … just one) about that particular trap, #2 being the natural resource trap. Continue reading →

The Bottom Billion: Trap #1

A book I borrowed, which continues a theme in a book I read and reviewed a few summers back The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, by Paul Collier is about the very poor on our globe. The title comes from the notion that of the 6 1/2 billion on our planet, 1 billion are very rich, about 4 1/2 billion are getting rich very quickly, and that leaves the bottom billion. The bottom billion is treading water at the poor as dirt level. The question Mr Collier addresses is to look at the reasons they are staying poor and haven’t hopped on the modern wealth treadmill like the rest of the world and what might be done about it. He identifies four traps holding them there. A trap isn’t fatal, it’s just a trap you have to get out of … before you’re hopelessly left behind (more on that point later).

One of the more interesting things about this, is Mr Collier pretty clearly has spent a lot of time, with open mind and eyes looking at data. And he has some conclusions and inferences which are likely both true and not in agreement with the “conventional” wisdom (as held by left or right).

Trap #1 is the conflict trap, i.e., civil wars (and coups). What can we learn about that? … below the fold.

Continue reading →

Philokalia Monday: Evagrius Ponticus on Discrimination and Demons

I return to blogging my way through, by reading and commenting on the four volumes of the English translation of the Philokalia. This work is, to quote wiki, “Other than the Bible, and a handful of writings by early Christian Fathers, the Philokalia is by far the most influential and widely admired example of Eastern Orthodox piety in print today. It is featured prominently in another much shorter well-known book called The Way of a Pilgrim, in which a Russian traveler learns to pray from various people he meets on his travels and by reading the Philokalia.” This work is a collection of writings from the fourth through at least the 15th centuries. The length of excerpts included in the Philokalia is somewhat indicative as to how large an impression they have made on the theology as practiced by the Orthodox. Our next author for today and the upcoming few weeks is Evagrios Pontikos.

It is said of Evagrios that “He possessed to an exceptional degree the gifts of psychological insight and vivid description, together with the ability to analyze and define with remarkable precision the various stages on the spiritual way.” In this work Evagrios talks extensively of demons. Today’s Freudian influenced materialist people would reject the notion that demons swarm around tempting us to do those things we should not. One might, at the onset of reading such texts, misquote Barth (on Genesis) who if I remember the quote correctly said, “I don’t care if the snake spoke, what’s important is what he said.” The point being, it’s less important whether demons are materially detectable, measurable, or “real”. What’s important is whether the psychological insights are useful and helpful in turning us and helping us center our thoughts on God and a Godly life. So with that in mind, we begin with 23 “texts” (short essays or thoughts) on Discrimination. Continue reading →

Philokalia Monday

Well, yes, I know it’s not Monday. Travel has bumped my schedule around. We return to blogging my way through, by reading and commenting on the four volumes of the English translation of the Philokalia. This work is, to quote wiki, “Other than the Bible, and a handful of writings by early Christian Fathers, the Philokalia is by far the most influential and widely admired example of Eastern Orthodox piety in print today. It is featured prominently in another much shorter well-known book called The Way of a Pilgrim, in which a Russian traveler learns to pray from various people he meets on his travels and by reading the Philokalia.” This work is a collection of writings from the fourth through at least the 15th centuries. The length of excerpts included in the Philokalia is somewhat indicative as to how large an impression they have made on the theology as practiced by the Orthodox. Our next author for today and the upcoming few weeks is Evagrios Pontikos. Continue reading →

Philokalia Monday: St. Isaiah (continued)

We return to blogging my way through, by reading and commenting on the four volumes of the English translation of the Philokalia. This work is, to quote wiki, “Other than the Bible, and a handful of writings by early Christian Fathers, the Philokalia is by far the most influential and widely admired example of Eastern Orthodox piety in print today. It is featured prominently in another much shorter well-known book called The Way of a Pilgrim, in which a Russian traveler learns to pray from various people he meets on his travels and by reading the Philokalia.” This work is a collection of writings from the fourth through at least the 15th centuries. The first writer quoted or excerpted in this work is by St. Isaiah the Solitary. Our redactor tells us he is attributed often as being dated at 370 but “more reliable” as a monk from the Sketis desert who died in 490.

The format of St. Isaiah’s work which is included in this collection is entitled “On Guarding the Intellect.” As noted before the format of these, and indeed many if not most, of the works in the Philokalia have an expository style which is unfamiliar to us today. These are largely in the form of short “chapters”, of just a few sentences in length. This format was the best fit for a pre-moveable type, collective contemplative monastic/cenoebitic community. These chapters could be memorized, used to center meditations and provide for easy recollection. St. Isaiah’s contribution is short, 27 chapters only.

A few are copied below the fold, after which some short commentary, which should be taken with a grain of salt of course. Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: Three Easy Pieces

It’s Monday Wednesday (note new day), which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. Today, because we have to very short pieces to discuss (the two essays combine for about 3 pages and I’ll throw in an additional 2-3 page introduction to the next section). These three “easy pieces” discussed in detail below the fold are:

  1. The first essay is short, entitled “I Do” from a short essay by David Blankenhorn originally published in 1997 by First Things.
  2. The second is the introduction to the “next section” (the prior essay is, as a reminder, the last of the section on “where are we now”). This new section is entitled, “Why Marry” and comprises a collection of defenses of the institution of marriage.
  3. The third then, is the first essay in that new section, a brief set of notes by Charles Darwin in which he considers diagrams pros and cons of marriage (and it is noted, shortly after putting these thoughts to paper, he married Emma Wedgewood and by all accounts had a happy marriage).

So on to our easy pieces. Continue reading →

Regularity

In yet another attempt at becoming more systematic and regular in my blogging, Monday nights, which were formerly Wing to Wing night, I’m going to attempt to begin blogging my way reading and commenting through the four volumes of the English translation of the Philokalia. This work is, to quote wiki, “Other than the Bible, and a handful of writings by early Christian Fathers, the Philokalia is by far the most influential and widely admired example of Eastern Orthodox piety in print today. It is featured prominently in another much shorter well-known book called The Way of a Pilgrim, in which a Russian traveler learns to pray from various people he meets on his travels and by reading the Philokalia.”

This work is a collection of writings from the fourth through at least the 15th centuries. The first writer quoted or excerpted in this work is by St. Isaiah the Solitary. Our redactor tells us he is attributed often as being dated at 370 but “more reliable” as a monk from the Sketis desert who died in 490. Much of the Philokalia contains methods of discourse which came from monastic traditions and are foreign to us. Instead of an expository or later scholastic rhetorical techniques the monastic methods lent itself to meditation and reflection as well as easy memorization. This method is one of short “chapters”. Each “chapter” is actually a short paragraph or less. The length is intended for ease in memorization and meditation. Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: Hot Potato

It’s Monday Wednesday (note new day), which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. Today’s essay is one which is probably familiar (with a certain amount of heat be it love or hate). That is to say, the text is abstracted from Mr Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, from the chapter on relationships. Because of the quantity of ink, print and digital which has been spilled on Mr Bloom’s book, instead of going in depth on this issue today I’m going to attmpt a short abstraction of one of the main points.

Modern relationships of our youngsters have implicit in their current state a fundamental contradiction. One the one hand, love has been abstracted to eros, to physical sexual attraction. At the same time, it is also held as a common notion that marriage and lasting relationships must be built primarly (or completely) on love as their basis. At the same time, demonstrations, protestations, and other public demonstrative acts aligned with courtship, i.e., balladeering at windows or from the prior week’s essay “calling, are minimized and set aside. Thus we have a situation where our young people find themselves seeking to base a lifetime relationship (or any sort of relationship) on a thing which they diminish at the same time.

It is mind boggling to consider the cognitive dissonance which apparently does not occur. Holding at the same time hope for lasting relationships built on love in a culture which also practices and esteems “hooking up” and “friendships with benefits”. If any readers think both of these are compatible and/or acceptable notions … how do you do it? How are these two things held up at the same time?


My criticism of my prior essay, must fall on myself and Mr Bloom, for we aren’t doing a proper “world-view” study of these youngsters. For I too am deriding this feature, yet not seeking understanding. I think in the near future, I’m going to return to the Wright book noted in that essay and try to put it to work on some cultural divides.

Wing to Wing: The Rise and Fall of Romance

It’s Monday, which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. We continue with the first reading … and first major section, second essay. This essay is from Passionate Attachments: Thinking About Love an anthology by Gaylin and Person itself, the selection here is authored by Lawrence Stone.

The main notion behind marriage today in the Western world is romantic love. However, in a historical context this is an anomaly and looking at our society today … likely short lived. Shakespeare, Austen and the like coupled with rising universality of literacy gave rise to an ideal of romantic love as the reason to marry. More specifically, this is not to say romantic attachment never has been the reason for marriage. It is just that now it is virtually universally taken as a given that this reason to marry has public affirmation and admiration.

A short quote:

It is also possible to say something about the changing relationship of passionate love to marriage. For al classes who possessed property, that is the top two-thirds economically, marriage before the seventeenth century was arranged by the parents, and the motives were the economic and political benefit of the kin group, not the emotional satisfaction of the individuals. As the concept of individualism grew int he seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, slowly became accepted that the prime object was “holy matrimony”, a sanctified state of monogamous married contentment. This was best achieved by allowing the couple to make their own choice, provided that both sets of parents agreed that the social and economic gap was not too wide, and the marriage was preceded by a long period of courtship. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, individualism had so far taken precedence over the group interests of the kin that the couple were left more or less free to make their own decision, except in the highest aristocratic and royal circles. Today individualism is given such absolute priority in most Western societies, that the couple are virtually free to act as they please, to sleep with whom they please and to marry and divorce when and whom they please to suit their own pleasure. The psychic cost of such behavior, and its self-defeating consequences, are becoming clear, however, and how long this situation will last is anybody’s guess …

In my own reflections on differing traditions, hermeneutic and how to choose between them, discernment according to the wisdom of the desert Fathers (4-5th century ascetics monastics) it was thought that it was in community, in discussion, and at the very least consultation with a personal adviser was required for proper discernment. Choosing of mate and whom to marry is exactly the sort of important decision for which discernment is key. Rejection of today’s individualism, here as well as in other matters where discernment is probably an important corrective for the ills of our age.

Wing to Wing: From Calling to Dating to ??

It’s Monday, which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. We continue with the first reading … and first major section. The first major section of the book is entitled “Where are we now? Assessing our situation”. In the introduction, our editors start out with a stark portrait (in their own admission open to challenge and perhaps overdrawn), yet perhaps too some truth will be seen in comparison with earlier ages. How does this portrait look:

Not so today, Now roughly half the nation goes to college, but very few — women or men — seem to go with the hope or even wish of finding a marriage partner. Many do no even expect to find a path to a career … Sexually active — in many cases, hyperactive — they bounce about from one relationship to another; … On the one hand, they practice strict scrutiny of ordinary speech for taints of sexism, and they rein in even innocent flirtation, which they have trouble distinguishing from sexual harassment; sensitivity training is in many places de rigeur. In addition, their legitimate fears of sexually transmitted disease, as well as their quasi-religious preoccupation with the condition and uses of their bodies, have taken much of the joy and ease out of the courtship dance …. On the other hand, many people are perfectly content to “hook up” for a night with someone they just met, or with whom they have been drinking too much, at a party. The young men, nervous predators, act as if any woman is equally good; they are given not to falling in love with one, but to scoring in bed with many. And in this sporting attitude, they are now matched by some female trophy hunters.

But many of the young, and more particularly many of the women, strike us as sad, lonely and confused. They are, to be sure, very pleased with their new educational and professional opportunities, and with their greater freedom and independence. But in private matters, in relations with men, most of them are, we suspect, hoping for something more. …

So … from that, we proceed to a short historical essay by Beth L. Bailey, entitled From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. Find a short summary and remarks below the fold. Continue reading →

Wing to Wing: What’s the Point?

It’s Monday, which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. In the introduction, the Editors of this anthology (husband and wife Leon and Amy Kass), tell us the reasons for their project and rational behind collecting much of what they have collected. Up front it must be emphasized that (and their words suffice best):

It should go without saying — but today it must, alas, be said — that we do not offer these “old” or “great” texts as authoritative, or authorities. We choose them not because they are old or because they are “traditional”. The “great books” disagree too much among themselves to constitute a single coherent traditional teaching. Rather, we offer them in the wisdom-seeking — rather than wisdom delivering — spirit, as writings that make us think, that challenge our unexamined opinions, expand our sympathies, elevate our gaze, and introduce us to possibilities open to human beings in everyday life that may be undreamt of in our philosophizing.

Below the fold, I attempt in my crooked prose to summarize some of the points made in their introduction.

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Wing to Wing: An Introduction

As I mentioned last night, over the upcoming months, I’m going to begin a Monday “feature”. On Monday’s, for the forseable future, I’m going to be blogging my way though in exhaustive detail through the book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. Today I’m going make some introductory remarks about this book and then look ahead, via the table of contents at what is in store for us over the upcoming weeks. Continue reading →

Reflections on Genesis: Murder and Civilization

Well, tonight didn’t go quite so swimmingly. We had a non-quorum or something like that. Instead of 9 people there were only 3 (Thanksgiving, sickness, school conflicts, painting and other things came up tonight). A fourth showed up late for a recap. So far however, probably because the paucity of people led to less lively discussion that I don’t have anything really insightful to share afterwards. One thing came up. I had observed that the “line of Cain” was the progenitor of much artifice (herding cows (domestication?), smithing, and so on) while the line of Seth (which is the ancestry of Noah) had nothing to offer except that they walked with God. Holiness and our closeness to God is not related to our accomplishments and our reason.

Reflections on Genesis: Murder and Civilization

This is the fourth in a series of notes for a Bible study I’m (!) leading on Genesis. The “(!)” is appended because, I consider myself something of a tyro at this sort of thing. But, so far I think things are going fairly well, the discussions have been good, and if nothing else, it’s getting me to think a lot about these first foundational chapters to Genesis.
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Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 2) Concerning Sex — Recap

Well, alas, I didn’t get a fight (any real disagreement) over my contention that Genesis is a subversive text concerning its view on patriarchy, that is contra the common idea that is is written supporting strict patriarchy it was instead written in a surrounding that was very patriarchal yet within contains subversive elements undermining the same. No disagreements lead to less discussion.

An interesting thought occurred to me during the class. Now that we had completed our discussions of the independent stories of creation, the cosmological/ontological and the moral/political in which we refrained from “mixing” the stories, that is to say we regarded them independently. But now that we are done, we might regard the question of why the redactor/editor juxtaposed them in this way? Here’s my thought on this:

The first story tells how in its ontological unfolding of a taxonomy of creation that the Cosmos is intelligible. The second story begins to tell the story of how Man is intelligible as well

Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 2) Concerning Sex

Another note on our hermeneutic, in these chapters as for the account of freedom and reason in the Garden story, looking at the same story to see what it says about sex and the relationship between sexes this story is largely descriptive not prescriptive. For much of the discussion in what follows I’d like to follow that tack. In Genesis (and Torah in general) the authors are not shy about tacking a definite lead-in when God is doing the commanding. That is lacking in these verses.

Our Topic

There may be normative data to extract from this text, but we should keep in mind this story is largely a realistic description of man and his nature. And I’d actually like to leave any interpretations of normative instruction from this text to the end. In the description given the texts points out the following:

Three
distinct aspects of sexuality:

  1. the
    (animal) sex act

  2. it’s
    humanization via attraction and esteem

  3. and
    it’s deeper procreative meaning.

This
paralleled by aspects of erotic desire identified:

  1. need
    love

  2. appreciative
    love

  3. generative
    love

(note although the story meets these aspects one at at time, in “real life” they are intertwined making life a tad more perplexing and complicated)

Sidelight of Mine: Contra-Patriarchy

It is a thesis of mine, and not the author (either of Genesis or our commentary) that against common wisdom these days, Genesis far from being a text supporting and establishing patriarchy instead it is a subversive text, undermining strict patriarchy, which was the norm at the time. That is to say, this text was written in a time where patriarchy was the rule and this text often describes that same, but very often inserts subversive ideas which serve to counter unadorned or oppressive patriarchy (patriarchy gone bad). This thesis begins here, and can be followed throughout Genesis.

Starting off: The Beauty Pageant

Man’s desire for partnership is begun with the encounter with the animals. Last week, we discussed how this sparked his dormant powers of reason. We also noted how, in the inability of these animals to provide the desired partnership this highlights what is lacking, exciting his latent desire.

While it might be argued by puritanical or innocent readers might argue that man might be seeking human company or a rational soul mate, a fellow namer-and-speaker with whom we might share our thoughts and speeches. But, as the story unfolds, the partnership sought and found is almost certainly sexual. This again, should give us confidence as we proceed in the perspicacity of our author, for any account of primordial and fundamental human nature must needs take eros into account.

Notes on Creation of ‘Ishah/Woman

It was not necessarily sexist. How can we see that? Man was created first is sometimes seen as support for the superiority of man. However,

  • Man’s origin was lower. Man was created from dust and breath, woman from bone near the heart of man.

  • Man in the process of woman’s creation is rendered less whole. Woman is whole, but man is left with a permanent (symbolic) wound signifying perhaps a deep unfulfillable desire. Man’s desire is a “conundrum” (after Kass), it wants and wants ardently, but it is unsure of what would fully satisfy it.

  • In contrast the woman, created from the rib, is presumably not deformed or lacking.

There is in fact gender asymmetry in the presentation. It might less indicate difference in status, than primordial differences in desires
and our natures.

First Comes Eros, Desire

And the main said,

This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called Woman [‘ishah] because from Man [‘ish] this one was taken.

The nature of his desire is pointed at in Adam’s description: “This one at last is bone of my bone”, not “You are bone of my bone”, indicates the objectivity of the desire. Speaking of bone/flesh does not indicate any sort of platonic desire. And possessive, “flesh of my flesh”.

On “Of one Flesh”

At this point, there is no consciousness of desire, because of the freedom/reason and the lack thereof mentioned last week.

What does “and the two shall become one flesh” tell us? Note again, this is not a commandment of God’s, it is descriptive, not normative or prescriptive.

Post Fall

On the temptation, and woman’s role. Recall, last week we noted that there is good which came of it. The tasting of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil leads to the maturation of man to more of his potential. And that it was woman who started this off, is against common commentary, not necessarily a bad thing. It is she who is open to conversation about looking past their base sexuality and desires looking towards wisdom and beauty and being open to new things. Perhaps precisely because her eros is less focussed and less carnal it can “grow wings and fly”. The man, speechlessly, followed the woman’s lead.

After maturation: Shame

Shame is the first thing which occurs after eating of the fruit. Erotic desire was the first thing which occurred on meeting, now shame on knowing good from bad (or caring about the same). How does awareness induce shame?

  • Halves not whole

  • awareness of our sexuality -> awareness of our mortality

  • the relationship between sex and shame, as indicated here is natural not puritanical or that sex is sinful or dirty.

Shame and sexual self-consciousness (mutually) changes the relationship of the sexes. With shame comes the romantic appreciative love.

Through courtship and flirtation, inspiration and seduction, a new dialectic is introduced into the dance: approval admiration, and regard require keeping lovers apart at the beholding distance, yet the original sexual instinct drives toward fusion. A new and genuine intimacy is born out of a delicate need to preserve and negotiate this distance and its closure.

This shame as well, is the spur to civilize. They sew and manufacture clothing. Modesty counterpart to shame comes into play. Kant wrote:

In the case of animals, sexual attraction is merely a matter of transient mostly periodic, impulse. But man soon discovered that for him this attraction can be prolonged and even increased by means of the imagination — a power which carries on its business, to be sure, the more moderately, but at once also the more constantly and uniformly, the more its object is removed from the senses. By means of the imagination, he discovered, the surfeit was avoided which goes with the satisfaction of mere animal desire. The fig leaf, then, was a far greater manifestation of reason than that shown in the earlier stage of development. For the one [i.e., desiring the forbidden fruit] shows merely a power to choose the extent to which to serve the impulse; but the other — rendering an inclination more inward and constant by removing its object from the senses — already reflects consciousness of a certain degree of mastery of reason over impulse. Refusal was the feat which brought about the passage from merely sensual to spiritual attractions, from mere animal desire gradually to love, and along with this from the feeling of the merely agreeable, to a taste for beauty, at first only for beauty in man, but at length for beauty in nature as well. [… short bit elided …]

This may be a small beginning. But if it gives a wholly new direction to thought, such a beginning is epoch-making. It is then more important than the whole immeasurable series of expansions of culture which subsequently spring from it.

It should also be noted that this idea of eros and its relation to shame/modesty is not reflected in Greek thought, wherein the gymnasium and ideas of beauty spring from the unadorned naked body.

Final Step: Procreation

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

Pain and dependency in childbearing lead to changes in the sexual relationship.

They desire shall be for thy husband and he shall rule over thee

What to make of this?

Recall -> descriptive not prescriptive. It is not “The Lord God commands” this, but a description or prediction of what shall be, not to say it is what should be. How does this (desire and rule of verse follow logically from childbirth and procreation?

How to gain man’s domesticity? By giving him the appearance of rule.

If woman is weaker (physically) and dependent when pregnant or nursing, her procreative powers give her unique powers in the household. Maternity is never in doubt, but paternity is. Legitimacy and the paternity of children depends on the marital chastity of the spouse.

No social order interested in its long term future can be indifferent to the need for responsible fatherhood.

Therefore the establishment of a human household requires limiting of male independence and female sexuality.

Man’s First Response!

What is man’s first response after God’s speech casting them out.

Golly, let’s name her Eve because she’s going to have children!”

His first response was positive, looking at this new revelation.

One’s child is good that it is one’s own, though it is good not because it is one’s own. Rather, one’s own children become one’s own share of that-good-which-is-children. Through children, male and female finally achieve some genuine unification (beyond mere sexual “union”, which fails to do so): the two become through sharing generous, not needy, love for this third being as good.

Flesh
of their flesh -> their child.

Some possible Normative suggestions?

From Kass:

The primordial story of man and woman hints that, despite all the dangers that accompany the humanization of sexuality, it is complementarity — the heterosexual difference — and not just doubleness that may point the way to human flourishing altogether. Conscious love of the complementary other draws the soul outward and upward; in procreation, love, mindful of mortality, overflows generously into creativity, the child unifying the parents as sex or romance alone never can, and the desire to give not only life but a good way of life to their children opens both man and woman towards a concern for the true, the good, and the holy. Parental love of children may be the beginning of sanctification of life. Perhaps that is what God was thinking when He said that it is not good for the human being — neither for man or woman — to be alone. Perhaps this is why “male and female created He them”.

Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 1) Freedom and Reason (recap)

Well, again the discussions were lively and interesting in our Bible study and more importantly I haven’t fallen too badly on my face. Actually, hubris is more likely my fault, as things seem to be going well. To recap, the lesson crystallized for me, that the story of Eden, Eve (+ snake) and the fall when read with a philosophical hermeneutic concentrating on what it teaches about freedom and reason is:

  • The proto-human description of an idyllic state exists in all of us and,
  • freedom and choosing (which entails in that action a concern and presumption of knowledge of good and bad) is integral to our makeup as well.
  • Furthermore our appetites and reason are tied into this as well, and the end result of this mix is
  • civilization.

For my notes on how this is arrived at, see this post (or get the book linked there). 🙂

Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 1) Freedom and Reason

This is the 2nd week of my Bible study on early Genesis, drawing heavily from Leon Kass wonderful book The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis which takes a philosophical (wisdom seeking) hermeneutic in reading Genesis. This is not to necessarily replace other methods of reading this text, but can very well stand along side other methods and in the light of how this text can teach us with this method, we might very well benefit from such a reading, placing this alongside Plato and Aristotle in our classrooms using this type of teaching. We will break the second creation story into two parts, starting with reflections on what this text instructs us on Freedom and Reason … next week we go to sexuality and the relationship between man and woman. It should also be noted, that this text is was primarily developed as my notes for a Bible study I’m leading on Monday night, after which I’ll also post (in a separate entry) my reflections on the “aftermath”.
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Reflections on Genesis: Chapter 1 (redux)

Well, I survived my first (adult) Bible study session. Actually, oddly enough, this is really the first one I’ve attended and here I am leading it. But all in all it went well, I think (if I do say so myself). The discussion was interesting and thoughtful. Dare I say … adult?

It also cemented for me the particular philosophical interpretation of Genesis put forward by Mr. Kass. That is, Genesis 1 (creation version 1) is a story about God’s creation of the Universe and “Days” refer not to time but to ontology, i.e., phases of taxonomic separation. That ontology is to emphasize that the universe can intelligibly approached by the human intellect. That we are made in God’s image, which primarily means we do those things which God does (and as other creatures of His creation do not) such as create, bless, name, separate and make intelligible.

Given the frequent comments and lively discussions with some self-declared atheists on this site lately, my guess is that there should be little objectionable to be found in this accounting. So at this stage of Genesis, I’m guessing, contrary to popular misconception, there should be little to be found in Genesis 1 that would ruffle the feathers of your average atheistic bird. No? Yes?

Reflections on Genesis: Chapter 1

As I mentioned last week, one of the topics I’ll be blogging about this week, reading Genesis from a philosophical perspective. Monday evenings I’m leading a bible study which will last 4-5 weeks. Each week we will basically be discussing one chapter per week. This study draws heavily from Leon Kass’ The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, which I recommend highly for any interested reader, even you atheists 😉 .
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Stuck … (a little) … On the City of God

Well, I had been promised writing thinking of writing on Book VIII, but want to ponder it a little more. Augustine in this book discusses in depth (and I believe continues in later books) discussing and referring to demons. Demons for Augustine are not just little phantoms or imaginary things, but in fact, that term covers all the gods worshipped by others. Augustine (I believe … further reading in the City of God will confirm or deny this hypothesis) felt that Christian God was the Creator and the source of the Platonic ideal of Good. Given this supposition, any other rational being (supernatural, although I don’t like that term) which was not man, but having attributes closer to God (but not Perfectly Good) Augustine calls a demon.
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Close Read: Augustine’s City of God
Book 1 and Suicide

For what I’m up to see this. The book we are examining is City of God.

I”ve now managed, thanks to an LAX-MDW (Los Angeles -> Chicago) plane “ride” to skim over the first several books of Augustine’s City of God. Much of the first book, as Thomas Merton comments in the introduction are not specifically interesting to the modern reader. However, there are a number of topics worth our time. In book 1, Augustine considers suicide and why this is wrong.
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Close Read: Augustine’s City of God
Book 1 essay 1

Well, last week I decided I should start some sort of systematic approach to blogging. Thursdays (which might as well move to Sundays) have been my Classical and Christian series. After I finish with the David/Achilles essays, which I probably can milk for another 4-6 essays, I think I might seek to find similar topics to study. Back in the day … that is shortly after I began blogging had come to the realization that “close reading” or careful examination of texts was something I really never learned to do well in school. Accordingly, I decided to try blogging and writing essays about my reading as I went to force myself to read the text carefully. The text I had chosen back then, was Augustine’s Confessions. To aid in my endeavor I had obtained a companion “commentary” which I used to help me keep on track (and to obtain insights which might not have otherwise occurred to me).

So, I’m going to return to this concept. Perhaps in a few years, “close reading” will be a skill learned. For now, I have again gotten a commentary. Again, I’m starting with Augustine, specifically City of God. The current “liberal” theological community as far as I know, doesn’t think so highly of Augustine’s little book. Anyhow, I’m going to try to approach this book with an open mind. I was very impressed with Confessions, I hope this book doesn’t disappoint.
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