Dependent vs Interdepenent

In recent discussions around the term Dependent Rational Animals, a book I hope to return to reading and not just skimming the first few chapters, commenter Boonton and I went back and forth a bit over the use of the term “Dependent.” Mr Boonton argued for inter-dependent instead of “dependent.” In those discussions I had argued that dependence of all necessarily implies interdependence so that the insistence of the “inter-” was superfluous.

But, on reflection, I think that this is wrong. Preferring the term dependent to interdependent is more than an acknowledgement that dependence (of all) necessarily implies inter-dependence. In one of his objections it was pointed out that dependence brings to mind a wife and children depending on a wage-earner. Yet this is exactly right. We are all exactly like the child or the wife depending on others for so much. The notion that the provider in that situation is not dependent is the crux of my mistake. Humans are social creatures. We depend on social interactions to bring out the human nature in each of us. The independent wage earner with a flock of dependants who look to him for sustenance is the myth. There is no (truly) independent person. This isn’t to deny ethical/moral autonomy and independence as a thing to esteem and to acknowledge. But that independence is contained within the context of a network of social and physical dependence.

For further grist for the mill, I refer to this excerpt from a publisher’s blurb on the aforementioned book:

n Dependent Rational Animals, Alasdair MacIntyre compares humans to other intelligent animals, ultimately drawing remarkable conclusions about human social life and our treatment of those whom he argues we should no longer call “disabled.” MacIntyre argues that human beings are independent, practical reasoners, but they are also dependent animals who must learn from each other in order to remain largely independent. To flourish, humans must acknowledge the importance of dependence and independence, both of which are developed in and through social relationships. This requires the development of a local community in which individuals discover their own “goods” through the discovery of a common Good.

Howzzat Supposed to Work Anyhow?

Regular commenter JA offers today the following observation:

However, I would (and do) distinguish between tribalism for minority “tribes” and tribalism for the majority in the most powerful nation on Earth. Black pride, Jewish pride, Mormon pride, Catholic pride — these, while (and this is where I probably disagree with Sharansky) still falling short of the ideal of universalism, can be useful for societies which contain them. It’s when the primary group of a powerful society shows too much tribalism that it becomes dangerous. But, again, I think universalism is ultimately best.

A few remarks might follow from this. (I might note that these remarks stem from the book Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, by Nathan Sharansky) Continue reading →


Well, I’ve a little time tonight, having got my post out. So … a little links+remarks? See if I can’t stir the discussion pot a little.

  1. Jim Anderson wonders if stochastic methods are used for pitch selection. Which begs the question, how much are stochastic methods used in any strategy situations. In war, other sports involving strategy, and politics? It seems to me that if a primary objective is not being out-guessed by the opponent that explicitly relying on a random element to aid in strategic selection would be good.
    I frequently tell my kids that a coin toss is an excellent method of helping you make a decision if you cannot choose between two alternatives which to you seem equal. After you flip, if you don’t like the choice tells you of course … you should of course go with what you want to do and not be ruled by the coin. The coin in that case has demonstrated to you an unconscious preference. But if you’re OK with the coin … go with it. Your time agonizing over a decision is time not wasted any longer.
  2. A question asked, that Mr Obama should answer. He has a healthcare plan, but it’s secret. He has a plan to a nuclear free-world, but it’s secret. But that latter part needs to be outlined a little more explicitly especially as Iran is moving closer to a device of their own. Actually regarding his healthcare non-plan, he has posted of course on the White House site a thing which some call “a plan.” However it is not actually a plan. It is a list of criteria. Maths people talk of solutions for problems needing a demonstration of existence and uniqueness. For Mr Obama’s criteria there is a missing demonstration of existence (and uniqueness is not a requirement). His critics of course offer that existence is not possible given that particular set of criteria. Given that is a primary objection, the missing demonstration is problematic. The same holds true for his nuclear free plan. More here regarding nuclear Iran.
  3. Land reform. Land ownership and property rights are a vexing problem for much of the world. We in America forget that we went through not a little time of tribulation in the 19th century over land reform.
  4. As a father of two teenage (well, technically my youngest hits the big 13 in December) … I’m hoping this suggestion is wrong and furthermore is not a model which they will find need to follow. Fortunately Hollywood is not the source of all social narratives and examples. Actually seeing how often they get the narratives and a realistic description on film of the religious America wrong, it is likely that the situation may not be as dire as the it seems.
  5. Well, prison rape is indeed a problem. However, I’d offer that anyone who actually makes a claim to be Christian that hoping that rapists get raped in prison is not a problem, in that it isn’t for what we hope (for anyone). Hammurrabi is right out, no eye for an eye. We hope for only for repentance. 

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Scripture and Asceticism

Well, some time ago, I offered that in discussions with American protestants about celibacy, monasticism, and asceticism might be best approached if they first start Scripture. It is my contention that the early fathers also started with Scripture (and some of the earlier ones of course also had face to face conversations with Apostles which we lack). The point of view I’m trying to confront here is that married life “in the world” is normative and that Jesus via the gospels, Paul and the other New Testament writers, Peter, James, etc, teach present this as the highest or first calling for the Christian life. I’m going to confront this,  not by the writings of the Fathers, or by reference to the fact that not seeing asceticism as normative is a very modern (Protestant) idea but instead I’ll attempt to refer just to Scripture. So, for now … I’ll give that a shot and to start, I’ll just look at the life of Jesus and the Gospels.

Now in the Gospels, there are a number of narrative threads running through the start to the climax of Jesus’ life. One of the primary ones is a anti-temple narrative. However, there is also one supporting the ascetic life. So here are some essential narrative and/or elements to Jesus life and example that support asceticism.

  1. After being Baptised by John at the Jordan what does Jesus do? He goes into the desert, into a time of solitude for 40 days … facing down the devil and temptations.
  2. When the rich man who was fulfilling all the commandments asked what more he might do, the reply “sell all you have and follow me” was given.
  3. In Matthew 18 and 19 Jesus repeatedly offers that those who do not become as children will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
  4. When the disciples had been sent out, they failed to confront and cast out some demons. Jesus remarked, “this sort of demon can only be cast out through prayer and fasting.”
  5. Mary and Martha receive Jesus. Mary sits at Jesus feet and ignores home and hospitality. Martha is put out, but Jesus replies, “Mary has chosen the good portion.”

Demons for the early church in a large part meant those forces and temptations to sin. This is something all of us face. How then are we taught to confront sin? Jesus’ first response is fasting, prayer. What did he do? Fast and pray and retreat to the desert, to solitude. When a wealthy man is asked what to do, sell all you have and follow me (where? to a life of fasting and prayer?). John himself was an Essene. A desert ascetic feeding on locusts and honey teaching a life of repentance. That this man would be the one to validate and announce Jesus ministry, does this not validate and highlight John’s lifestyle to a degree. Finally, with Mary and Martha the two sisters might be seen as representing the life of the world vs and the life of prayer. Jesus does not rebuke Martha for her choice but he also says that Mary’s choice “is the good portion.” Finally, what is like a child? Humility and not being concerned with the cares of the world … might be the answer. How might an adult do this?

For the early church (and for that matter the church as a whole until the Protestant movement came about) found asceticism to be one of the primary messages from Scripture.

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Tilting Against the (Protestant) Windmill

David at (as?) the Thirsty Theologian writes on sex (while married) and the Puritans. I had written an mid-length reply to our short conversation on that, which got lost. Or so I thought … as my reply did in fact show up (as I check later as I write this). To clarify what is being discussed here.

  • David’s post is about how the Puritans have been misread by history (as is so common in history) the “conventional wisdom” regarding the Puritan attitude toward sex has it backwards. That is, that Puritans enthusiastically encouraged and celebrated sex within marriage. I think this is right and is right. That is to say, I think that it is correct that the historical reading has it wrong and that celebration of sex within marriage is the right attitude. I would only temper that with what Fr. Isaiah taught this summer, that as marriage continues into old age the (Orthodox) expectation is that the seeking of dispassion by the married couple will lead ultimately to celibacy within marriage.
  • David starts (as well) pointing out Augustine, who he feels is highly regarded (?) within the Reformed community, felt that celibacy was a higher calling … and that this was wrong. David feels that Sola Scriptura is the only criteria by which normative Christian behaviour is to be measured.

David in his last exchange writes:

Since you claim to agree with the patristic tradition because it agrees with scripture, then you’re not really going counter to my statement dismissing tradition “if scripture says something else,” are you? We just disagree about what scripture says. So, if the fathers could really argue the superiority of celibacy from scripture, you should be able to do the same.

And on this I wish to write a little more. The full argument for the superiority of the monastic life and celibacy in particular from Scripture is derivative, for indeed the New Testament itself (obviously) does not lay out anything like the monastic example or teachings like St. John Cassian, St. Basil the Great, or St. John Climacus. So how did this conclusion come about. For this I think the key point is not to specifically single out celibacy or any other particular other monastic practice but the general practice of apatheia (dispassion) within the ascetic life (to which we are all called but the monastics single out as their primary focus in life). The writers noted just previously all assumed the necessity of apatheia. Apatheia in Christian writings and teaching is found as early as in Clement (AD 30-100) Stromata. At Clement’s time gnosticism and stoic influences were readily apparent, but by the time of those noted above that had long since gone through the wringer and the non-Christian influence weeded out. Take for example the later writer, Evagrius, and look at his work Praktikos. The Protestant claim is that this writing does not follow Scripture, yet scan the opening pages of the Praktikos, you will not find references to Scripture a rare thing. He uses Scripture to support and explain why dispassion is necessary and how to come by it. Once you have accepted dispassion as necessary to the Christian life … celibacy as a higher calling and exceptional way of life is unavoidable.

On The Healthcare Bill and Christian Virtues

Fr. Jake offers a rhetorical question that nevertheless deserves a response.

I must admit to being simply astounded that anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ would be against providing health care for every child of God.

Unless you cut out the 25th chapter of Matthew, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the year of Jubilee, and various other big swaths of scripture, it is simply impossible to refute the clear message that God has a preferential bias for the poor.

This is dishonest rhetoric. It is true that the Christian eschatological hope is exactly, in part, what Fr. Jake yearns for here, that everyone have succor and find their peace. How could a Christian be against that? [An aside: The Good Samaritan? How is that about poverty? Who is poor in that story?]

Well, first of all it isn’t charity. It is charity when I give to the poor and for other causes. It is not charity when, by force, I take money from my richer neighbor and give it to the poor. The revenue gotten from taxation, while the IRS is in now way anywhere nears as corrupt or likely as rapacious as the average 1st century Middle Eastern Roman tax collector, is not my nor anyone else’s charity. If a person does not pay, like then, that person faces a jail sentence. Charity is a principal virtue for the Christian. Charity cannot be given when there is no choice.

Fr. Jake continues with some statistics, the origin which he may be unaware, which are dishonest as well. “46 million” in this country are without healthcare. If you take out the millions who can afford healthcare but, because they are young and/or foolish and choose to spend their money elsewhere, don’t avail themselves of it … are not part of the crises as is normally considered. They are not the “poor” to which the church fathers sought to aid and of which the Gospels preach. The 46 million figure also includes the illegal residents … which Fr Jake notes “are not covered under this bill.” so then why include them in the 46 millions? Why not use a more accurate figure, which has been estimated elsewhere but is far less than 46 millions. Or “It will not raise your taxes” … which (so far) remains true … unless you consider your employer’s provision of your current healthcare part of your remuneration for your services (which it is) … for that will in fact be taxed. So not raising your taxes requires a particularly narrow evaluation of what “your taxes” means.

Thus while he notes that “a lot of disinformation and likes” have been spread about HR3200. Well, well, a lot of disinformation has been spread in favor of the bill as well. The (pseudonymous) Czar of Muscovy blogging at the Gormogons, has read the entire bill … and found it lacking in many respects, i.e., has quite a number of unmet criticisms. In fact, one might offer, that there is enough here that is objectionable that one might offer that while anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ might like to see everyone receive the aid and succor for which their heart yearns … HR3200 is not in no way shape or form the sort of bill by which that goal might be reached.

Furthermore, while yes, detachment from material things is seen as a virtue. I would offer this post from long ago on healthcare in the more abstract. Or here where I wrote:

Fr. Schmemann suggests that counseling and care (of Christians by Christians) at the end of life is incorrectly motivated. What he calls for is that instead of looking at quality of life and extension of the same, the priority of a Christian as he nears the end of his days in this life should be martyrdom. Now martyrdom doesn’t mean dying spectacularly in defense of the faith. It means, essentially witness. In this context, martyrdom means that the end of your life should be sign, a witness of your life in Christ. Extension of life, for a Christian, should be the highest priority, after all there is the life to come. Your life should be an expression and witness to that fundamental ontological freedom.

A Theodicy

The pseudonymous Larry Niven blogging as the Rust Belt Philosopher often attacks various defenses of the theodicy problem. I haven’t been reading his blog for much more than a month but it seems possibly he locates the best and most potent objections to Christian belief in the failure, in his view, to solve the theodicy problem adequately. On one former post I had commenting his comments on theodicy he remarked that I’d “offered nothing new.” Well here is something, perhaps, new.
Theodicy centers on the question of why does the Christian God who has been declared to have significant power in the universe and who is claimed to be Good then allow evil and unearned suffering to be subjected to the innocent. I will now attempt to present what might be considered a narrative defense of this question.

Why is Dicken’s Tiny Tim allowed to suffer, Dickens is writing stories and we will, for now, assume that the story has in mind the furtherance of good and furthermore as author commands complete control over his story. Why does any number of good characters in narratives by any number of authors allow minor characters to suffer undeserved evil? Dickens is not unique. Any number of minor (and major) characters undeserved suffering in novels in which the end of the author was to expose and explore truth and beauty. The crux of the narrative theodicy response that the suffering of the underserved is justified by the demands of the larger narrative. Yet at the same time, unlike in a writers narrative, the protagonists have free will. They can make moral choices and as a result can fail to rise to fulfill the role to which they were fit.

In the book about the life of Father Arseny, 1893-1973 toward the end of the book (which contains fragmented stories from people whose lives where touched by Fr Arseny) there is a report of a particular saintly woman, Mother Maria of whom Fr Arseny hears her final confession. The person recounting this story fragment is confused as to why Fr Arseny was so affected by her confession and life’s story for to him here story seemed mundane and ordinary. Fr Arseny explains that at this point in his life, as his own mortality was near, he was so very thankful that God gave to him the chance to hear her story and her example, which was a continual narrative of her putting her own concerns and desires aside for the sake others linked at the same time with a continual turning towards God. My suggestion here is that the suffering of those around her (whom she helped) provided grist for her life’s story for the benefit of Fr Arseny and his story, which being shared helps the rest of us.

Modern materialism rejects the notion that there is purpose in the unfolding of our lives and in history. Dame fortuna for the materialist reigns supreme. So the question of a narrative theodicy requires some justification for rejecting dumb luck as the only meaning for our lives. The question is not to test the narrative model against the materialist model per se (at least to begin) but first to examine if the narrative model is internally consistent.

Judeo-Christian tenents from Genesis and other writings offer that we are both made in God’s image and suggest that narrative is a key feature of both God’s plan and our nature. The notion of God’s unfolding narrative with Israel is not foreign to the text or the interpretative tradition. In the narrative of the man born blind in the Gospel of John the answer to why he might have suffered for decades as a blind man was answered in effect that it was so because he was to take part in this narrative unfolding today, i.e., so that Jesus might heal him. The justification for his being blind was his role in the narrative of Jesus life. Charles Taylor in the Secular Age recounts many of the reasons and mechanisms that arose through the previous four or five centuries that meaning has been leached from our view of history and the world around us.

This is all I have time for tonight, so at this point discussion may be fruitful. Hopefully there may be enough here to chew on.

A Difference or Not?

The phrase “In but not of” is heard in Christian circles, entreating and encouraging the Christian community to live and love their neighbors but to remember that many of the concerns of the secular community affect the faithful differently than the secular. Catholic Saint and Jewish philosopher Edith Stein had a sea change in her life. She went from being from one of the preeminent German philosophers and an atheistic Jew and converted to Christianity, becoming a Carmelite monastic and ultimately perishing in Auschwitz. According to the intellectual biography of her life by Alasdair McIntyre, her conversion was in a large part driven by the surprising (for her) reaction of her Christian friends to the deaths of family and friends during the trials of the Great War.

Apparently today we are undergoing great global economic trials. Our response to stressful times is an opportunity for martyrdom (which means witness). And it will be witness to our beliefs … or lack thereof. And, I suggest that if our reactions and our actions are indistinguishable from our secular neighbor … then our faith is indistinguishable as well.

Of the Personal and the Political:
Being A Christian in the Public Square

In an number of previous essays the notions of Bertrand de Jouvenel regarding political theory have been utilized. One of these ideas in particular is that government is rightly formed for a particular society and culture when its authority is freely granted by the people, that is it utilizes the authority granted to it by the people and does not have to resort to coercion. This idea of government does not stem from rights or freedoms and the “standard” contract terminology stemming from Hobbes/Lockean political philosophies. Limitations on government stems from both the withholding of authority and that what actions and freedoms state may grant to a person, does not by that granting make that action ethical or moral. For example, the Roman state (and in fact many states) granted the power of life and death to the state over individual citizens. For over 200 years, Christians were put to death for their faith under this power granted. That however, did not make it ethical or moral for a particular Roman to do put a Christian to death. Or more plainly, it was within the boundaries of Roman rule to put a Christian to death but it was unethical for individual Roman to do so. Nero as Emperor could execute Christians as such but it was unethical for Nero the man to do so.

Christians for just slightly under two thousand years have opposed abortion. A statement regarding abortion made today of and by those against abortion that fixes the idea that the act of abortion is a equivalent to murder and the actor be it the mother or the doctor, is equivalent to a murderer is not unheard of in pro-life circles. Some pro-life activists “go this far” and those criticizing the pro-life Christian position remark that this should be a logical consequence of ascribing personhood to the fetus. It is not necessary to ascribe full or even partial “personhood” to a fetus in order to oppose abortion. But even granting that, a view of government as expressed above combined with Christian ethics does not necessitate that step of equivicating abortion with murder. Continue reading →

Of Personal and Political Ethics and Meta-Ethics

I’m working on an abortion/stem cell essay that’s applicable to a wider range of matters where state meets personal morals. In short, one consequence of my (current) political meta-ethic needs to confront the fact that abortion certainly and possibly other issues, e.g., public opinion on ESCR is in my view well tested by the democratic process, means that the society at large from a political perspective finds these to be right. That is the majority yield the authority for these things to be done. I think that with few exceptions abortion remains personally unethical and I’ve yet to hear an argument for a generic situation in which it might be considered ethical. However that is a separate question to the political meta-ethical one.

Anyhow, I’ll elaborate more when I have it worked out more in detail.

The Light of Christ

One book, which is treasured today by the modern Orthodox community derives from the experiences of an extraordinary man who survived the gulag experience in Russia. This book, Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father : Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father, I recently acquired. I’ve read about half of it, and I’d like to share a little from what I’ve read. The first part of the book are stories and fragments collected from prisoners who remembered Fr Arseny during their imprisonment. From a fragment entitled, O Mother of God! Do not Abandon Them! we find a recounting of a time in which Fr Arseny became very very ill. He was expected by all around him to die. During this time he recalled having out of body experience. At the first part of this, he recalled viewing the following:

As he prayed, he cried, begging God, the Mother of God, and all the Saints to have mercy on them all. But his prayer was wordless. And now the barracks and the entire camp appeared before his spiritual eyes in a very different way. He saw the whole camp with all its prisoners and its prison guards as if from inside. Each person carried within himself a soul which was now directly visible to Father Arseny. The souls of some were afire with faith which kindled the people around them; the souls of others, like Szikov and Avsenkov, burned with a smaller yet ever growing flame; others had only small sparks of faith and only needed the arrival of a shepherd to fan these sparks into a real flame. There were also people whose souls were dark and sad, without even a spark of Light. Now, looking into the souls of the people which God had allowed him to see, Father Arseny was extremely moved. “O, Lord! I lived among these people and did not even notice them. How much beauty they carry within them. So many are true ascetics in the faith. Although they are surrounded by such spiritual darkness and unbearable human suffering, they not only save themselves, but give their life and their love to the people around them, helping others by word and by dead.

“Lord! Where was I? I was blinded by pride and mistook my own small deeds for something grand.”

Father Arseny saw that the Light burned not only in the prisoners, but also in some of the guards and administrators, who, within the limits of what they could do, performed good deeds. For them this was extremely difficult, because it was very dangerous.

This image, of those around us, burning with varied lights some stronger some weaker and the need for us to encourage the sparks and growing or lessening flames of faith in those around us. This is a powerful metaphor, one which could spur us to find a way to put our faith in action. To listen, to love and to encourage that spark in our neighbor, in our family, and in all those with whom we come in contact. Even, or perhaps especially, those to whom, like the guards in Fr Arseny’s camp, we would normally see as those who are working against us.

Considering a Purity Pledge

Many bloggers have noted the “failure” of abstinence programs and chastity pledges to “work.” It seems to me that a lot of bad conclusions are drawn from this data. In fact the oddest thing about the studies into these programs is that people find the results worth noting. That is to say, the notion that superficial statements about changing one’s life or setting its course do not actually often change or set the course of that life unless one really changes the course of your life in non-superficial ways.

Consider the alcoholic or habitual drug user who (time after time) states, they are “quitting”, only to fall again and again “off the wagon.” You cannot stop drug use without changing all or at least most/many of the habits which accompany one’s life. Consider the convert to Christianity, who professes his or her faith yet changes other outward (or inward) modes and manner of thought. Failure to regularly attend liturgy, engage in daily prayer, and perhaps repentance and fasting … that conversion will likely be temporary and superficial.
Continue reading →

Intentions and Acts, Redux

Well, I can’t leave comments at Positive Liberty for some reason or other, however a brief response to Mr Kuznicki seems in order.

Mr Kuznicki is up in arms about conservatives daring to “defend” a Rick Warren/Martin Ssempa connection. He finds a movement toward abstinence inappropriate as well as Mr Ssempa’s anti-gay rhetoric. Now, I’m not going to defend the latter. However, a little googling shows that the Saddleback church (Rick Warren’s “purpose driven” mega-church) has embraced an AIDS ministry. The concentration of this ministry accoriding to their web site concentrates confronting AIDS in particular because of the stigma associated with the disease. And additionally, they’ve chosen to focus their aid on orphans and children with AIDS. In spreading their assistance from the States to Africa apparently Mr Ssempa has aided their particular mission.

Mr Kuznicki asks how those particular things which bother him about Mr Ssempa:

–Agitated successfully to remove all mention of condoms from Uganda’s anti-HIV campaign.
–Burned condoms in public and otherwise condemned them. For Jesus.
–Recommended that gays be imprisoned.
–Expressed a belief that witches were making people sick.

He wonders how this could be worse?

Well, obviously it could. African AIDS is not a homosexual phenomena, unlike in the States. That epidemic is apparently driven by rampant widespread adultery. One might Imagine burning condoms were part of a movement to stem this tide and promote the notion of fidelity to one’s spouse. Imagine that, the horror! Why might a conservative support such a clearly silly notion.

It was Mr Kuznicki’s last bullet point that inspired my initial remarks regarding intentions and deeds. If one takes the two notions that Mr Ssempa has been allowing and facilitatting the Saddleback church in getting aid medical, food, and support to orphans and children with HIV/AIDS and at the same time Dr Ssempa thinks that witchcraft and the supernatural impacts the spread of disease. Well, we have an effect, i.e., aid to orphans. We have a belief, witchcraft. The question I posed, and Mr Kuznicki has failed to address, is to ask is why he discounts aid to HIV infected orphans because Mr Ssempa has a belief in witchcraft, i.e., if one’s beliefs (intentions) aren’t pure … does that discount one’s deeds, i.e., facilitating aid to orphans?

Apparently, in Mr Kuznicki’s world … it does.

One final remarks, I don’t know the extent or basis of Mr Ssempa’s political influence in Uganda. However, it is my impression that in sub-Saharan Africa in general there are generically very strong anti-gay biases in the populus. That a politician personally on occaision panders to this to garner support is no indication of their personal feeling and may in fact just be a requirement to get support to garner the political capital to do other things, such as for example try to turn the culture toward monagamy and to aid orphans.

Considering Consequentialism and Torture

One of the dominant meta-ethical methodologies today is consequentialism. The consequences of your choice determine for you the right choice. Roughly speaking if your choice would lead to harm, then it is wrong. Then, consider the following, is it torture from a consequentialist perspective, and if so why? And if it is not, why is it wrong … or is it wrong at all.

  • We propose first a drug exists which prevents the formation of long term memory. If this drug is taken, no long term memories will be formed effectively and permanently erasing all subsequent memory of the events from the last, say, 12 hours.
  • A torture technique, much like the infamous waterboarding is applied which causes great mental distress, “cracking” the subject but causing no organic damage, i.e., no physical harm which will be detectable the next day by the subject.
  • Therefore the use of the techniques like the above coupled with the absence of memory mean that for the subject there is no way of determining that anything occurred.
  • After questioning is performed and the results reported , both the subject and the administrator(s) of the questioning (the “torturer”) are given the drug noted above. Thus neither the questioned nor the questioner have any memory of the event. For them, this never occurred.
  • Furthermore, names and data regarding the subject and administrators are not kept. No video record is kept of the interrogation, just conclusions remain with all source information excised. This is to insuring that there will remain no possible (direct) data remaining of the specifics of the interrogation. This prevents the subject (or interrogator) from later viewing and discovering later that they took part this event.

So the question is, where is the harm? It is said that the act of torture degrades the torturer as well as obviously harms the tortured subject. This is in fact why the interrogator as well as subject are given the drug. Therefore with no physical or mental memory of the event, how do we locate harm to the subject? Without memory, is there harm? There is no consequence to subject (or interrogator) on which a harmful consequence can be attached. Where then is the harm located?

The only possible harm is the memory gap that remains. But memory gaps are common. About a decade and a half ago, I had appendicitis. Demoral was administered as a pain killer after the surgery. Intravenous demoral had the effect on me of preventing me from forming reliable memory of the event. Memory of small inconsequential routine days as little as a month or half a year ago fade. Human memory is not so precise that one can realistically locate as harm to an individual the loss of a half of a day in the eight to ten decades of average human lifespan. Couple that with national imperatives to solve crime, stop terror, or save lives by performing the interrogation and one has a consequentialist argument that leads one inescapabably to the conclusion that this sort of interrogation is not only not harm, but an ethical good.

My suggestion is that this sort of thing is indeed actually unethical and wrong and that that there is no consequential argument that can be made against it. Therefore this can be posed as is an argument underlining a fundamental deficiencies of the consequentialism as a meta-ethical methodology.

Is this just logical nonsense? Perhaps, but I suspect the technology to implement such a program is not just a hypothetical suppostion, but that it could be implemented today, if a government so chose. That consequentialism is perhaps the dominant meta-ethic should therefore give us pause.


Is it Intellectual Cowardice To Not Meet the Other’s Actual Argument

Arguments like those made by Mr Schraub, are really just one way of traveling down the path of intellectual dishonesty. This is not an unusual tactic, especially in today’s age in which we often lose sight or just plain don’t understand the reasons and assumptions made by the other side. So to compensate, reasons which oddly enough are easy to counter or caricature are substitute instead of meeting, understanding, and having any sort of discussion which will do anything but anger the “other” side, although if one is particularly lyrical in your rhetoric it will get acclaim and kudos from those in your particular choir.

In particular in this argument, the point is made that it is unacceptable to encourage one member of a relationship to engage in sex when they do not particularly feel like doing so at that time. One of the bloggers linked in the post of Mr Schraub’s offers that sex between married couples should only occur when both desire it at the same time. However, this leaves the question unanswered of how to respond to the myriad of other things we do for our spouse, which we don’t particularly desire. In the post linked above, I disputed the notion that property was any part of the argument on the right, suggested that marriage as unity is in fact their argument and why that argument is a better basis for marriage.

My wife’s father has a degenerative neuro-muscular disease which has not been well diagnosed, however none of the possibilities for the exact nature of the disease offer any cure so that failure is moot. Over the last 5 years his condition has continually degenerated. He is now confined to a wheelchair or bed and is fed via a feeding tube. Her mother (and she and her younger sister) are providing the primary care for him. Feeding, washing, suctioning his airway, wiping, and so forth. This is a lot of work, much of it can only be described as unpleasant.

So the question how does the liberal arguing against the notion that providing sexual availability “when you don’t want it” argue that the care provided above is also a natural marital responsibility? When you come home after a hard day at the office is it harder to have sex in the evening, or spend 2 hour pureeing food, feeding it to your husband, washing, wiping, trying to talk/communicate with him as well as taking care of housework less onerous than 20-40 minutes of sexual congress, which likely isn’t what one would describe as unpleasant (or at least far less unpleasant than that described above). The point here is that marriage is not a bargain of convenience. The arguments made by the liberals would encourage one to dump one’s spouse off in a nursing home in order to seek one’s one fulfillment in a situation like this. Similarly, when the kids get difficult … just walk? After all you need to live your own life … why take care of needy children when you can have stimulating intellectual conversations with the right company, and a teething 3 year old, can’t provide intellectual fulfillment, right? However, it should be noted, I don’t know the argument made by the other on this point. They do discuss fulfillment (“wanting it” as a primary normative indication of action) and intellectual freedom, so I’m guessing that comes in. But that is conjecture. So then, what is the argument on the other side, stated honestly?

The model that the conservative would use for marriage is not property but that one and one’s spouse are one. One person, not property except in the sense that your foot is property. It is this argument the left needs to confront, and at the same time defend their weak notions of commitment in hard times as essential to marital stability and the raising of children (a social necessity).

There is in fact a failure in marriage if consistently one or the other partner is engaging in sex when the other would not prefer to engage in it. I will not dispute that point. But the left in the arguments noted fail to locate the problem and its solution. Christian teaching on marriage enjoins each spouse to think of the other before themselves. The recommendation is not that sex should not be provided but that the other spouse be more empathetic to the needs and desires of the spouse. Perhaps for example, instead of requesting or desiring sex the husband should look to provide a massage, hot bath, and/or chocolate after a hard day’s work. The point is not my particularly uninspired suggestions but that if one is looking out for the needs and desires of your beloved before your own (on both sides) things will take care of themselves in this regard.

I should note that similar intellectual cowardice often occurs on both sides in many debates between right and left, for example on abortion.

We should all try to discourage it where it is found.

Sex and Political Assumptions

Mr Schraub gets it very wrong, and I think on this point, he is not alone in this on the left. He (and others) love to jump on the property/marriage allusion. One wonders if that is a prime example of, to coin a word, a Vizzinism? (From, of course, the Princess Bride where Vizzini keeps coining the Dread Pirates advance as “inconceivable” and Inigo Montoya’s rejoinder is “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”) But enough lexical silliness. To the point, Mr Schraub offers:

Property, in its simplest form, is that to which you have the right to exclusive use (and can correspondingly exclude others from). In a very real sense, that’s precisely what a closed relationship is: a mutual grant of exclusivity, reducing at least one element of another’s personhood to the level of property.

and connects that to notions about:

A lot of bloggers have taken apart the risible Dennis Prager’s sex advice column, in which he advises married women that they should have sex with their husbands even when they don’t want to.

So, what have we here simply put is that Mr Schraub connects the idea that the notion that a spouse might be advised to consent to sex when “they don’t want to” equates that same said spouse with property.

Property? No. No. And No. Let’s examine how this is in error. I should note, that I’m not arguing an anthropological point that no societies have treated their spouse as property. However, Mr Schraub is alluding in part to Jewish and Christian notions as suggested by his allusion to Mr Prager, which indeed I will argue these traditions support such notions as that which Mr Prager suggesting regarding sexual relations disregarding your personal desire at that time without any requirement or delving into notions of spouse as property, which is an assumption it seems that those on the left are amazingly quick to leap. Continue reading →

Ontological Freedom, Christians in the Public Sphere, and Liberatarian Ideas

John Rowe (for example this post at Positive Liberty) is just one example of many who frequently cite the notion that Christian theology is not one of freedom. Putting it quite strongly, a commenter Andy Craig apropos of the post above notes:

A pretty good argument as to why biblical Christianity is on the whole a fundamentally authoritarian worldview and has little place in a world of individual liberty, actually. It’s one of the main reasons I rejected Christianity and religion in general (most religions take a similar view of government authority).

In the post itself, it is noted that Romans 13 written by St. Paul in the rule of Nero (who it might be noted did have a predilection for augmenting lighting public fixtures with Christian corpses) specifically enjoins the Christian,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

which is pretty straightforward … it seems. However, this in a large measure misses the point. Continue reading →

A Reply to Jason

I tried leaving a comment at Positive Liberty, but I remain blocked. Well, my comments have been blocked for so long. I tried leaving the following remarks at this post.

First off, I think in your preamble you overstate the relationship the Church (and God perhaps) has with “the sinner.” You suggested:

No, Christianity doesn’t “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” The sinner is hated too; he is excluded from the church, and from the Kingdom, and from communion with God. In brief, the sinner goes to Hell. If that’s not hate, nothing is. Yet such is Christianity as I cannot help but see it.

Now, I cannot disagree with the last sentence but … the rest are not correct. There is an important missing adjective. The unrepentant sinner is the one going to Hell. The Church itself is entirely composed of sinners (of whom I am first, btw, as it is often remarked). The point is that of course the Church and our communion loves the sinner because he is us (or we are he whichever is grammatically less-sinful). And as for repentance, we in the Church (those of us trying-to-repent-of-our-sins) sort actually have a lot of experience with the difficulty in facing and repenting of our sins, i.e., it’s not an easy thing. So we also have some amount of experience with empathizing (and loving) the unrepentant sinner as well.

As for blood … I’m no expert and haven’t spoken to any but I did enjoy blood sausage … but haven’t since my conversion in part for the reasons you suggest. It also seems worth remarking that given the Levitical suggestions forbidding the eating of blood has a connected reason, “because blood is life.” I’d connect the blood dietary prohibition closer tied to abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishments than notions about sexuality.

Toward Jim Hanley’s remark:

But in the really big picture, any God who doesn’t let me eat my steak medium-rare is a cruel being undeserving of worship. And any God who would deny me pork chops and bacon is a monster.

Uhm, I take it you’re not a big fan of the 1500+ years of the Christian aescetic movement and for example, not taking any part today in the Nativity fast right now, eh?

On “Comprehensive Liberalism”

Well, I just started reading Mr Rawl’s Political Liberalism … just starting to break into the introduction. And so far, I’m unimpressed. His writing is sloppy and careless, not that I really should complain, but this is a book by an Academic philosopher who should be more careful than an amateur blogger. However, of interest (for tonight) is this following excerpt quoted as the beliefs belonging to “comprehensive” as opposed to “political” liberalism. Three tenents are given, the second of each is the “liberal” tenet.

Is the knowledge or awareness of how we are to act directly accessible only to some, or to a few (the clergy, say), or is it accessible to every person who is normally reasonable and conscientious?

Again, it the moral order required of us derived from an external source, say from an order of values in God’s intellect, or does it arise in some way from human nature itself (either from reason or feeling or from a union of both), together with the requirements of our living together in society?

Finally, must we be persuaded or compelled to bring ourselves in line with the requirements of our duties and obligations by some external motivation, say by divine sanctions or by those of the state; or are we to constituted that we have in our nature sufficient motives to lead us to act as we ought without the need of external threats inducements?

It seems, I am not a “comprehensive” liberal because I view the latter in all of cases as fatally flawed. Let’s consider this case by case.

  1. Is the upper floor of a house available to all or only to those who climb the stairs. Knowledge and awareness on a more than passing level is only available to those who practice and engage in self-examination and introspective thought on ethics and morals. That is not easy. It is not available to everyone for it is not reasonable to expect any more than a distinct minority to be conscientious. Thinking otherwise is hopelessly Utopian.
  2. Well, my answer to this is a little more confused. Our moral sense and the “moral order required of us” is derived from external source (God), but alas, God (and our connection to Him, e.g., “made in His image”) is in fact human nature.
  3. Well, as avidly and emphatically demonstrated by Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age, one of the major pushes by Church, State, and Academia for the last 500 years has been to civilize and make polite society. 500 years ago, the medieval Emily Posts of the Europe were encouraging the masses not to take a dump in the living room. We’ve come a long way, baby … but it hasn’t been easy or a fast road. The idea that politeness and reasonableness is “in our nature” is to deny and ignore so so so much of our history (ancient and modern) it isn’t funny.

Sacred and Secular: Two Heroes from (Animated) Cinema Compared

Which movies and which individuals do I have in mind? I offer Roger Rabbit and Wall-E as a comparison and constrast between a secular and sacred (specifically Christian) Saints. I use the term ‘saint’ with a capitalized “S” normally to indicate a hero of the Christian tradition and faith. Roger Rabbit strike me for some odd reason as more a secular saint than secular hero, after all Roger represents virtues very much unlike those of Achilles, a more traditional hero. For reference, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a 1988 movie mixing 24-frame animation directed by Roger Zemeckis featuring Bob Hoskins and a zany (a term of art) Roger Rabbit in a mystery story featuring murder, possibly adultery and of course intrigue. Wall-E is a computer animated PIXAR film which is less easily classifiable. I commend both as wonderful examples of some of the best of animated cinema.

Back in the day, in the 90s and when WFRR came out, I became convinced that Roger was saint, and at that time I was pretty much a secular fellow so it might be considered at that point that perhaps Roger is a secular not sacred version of the saint. Why did I consider Roger to be a saint. It is one of his lines in the movie, “I just want to make people laugh.” And that is indeed his (and perhaps all of “toontown’s”) mission in the movie. Bob Hoskin’s character is quite the sourpuss. Underlying the entire narrative is the “want to make people laugh” as a them. Spreading joy and enjoyment is the highest virtue, the highest calling from Roger’s (and the Toon communities) point of view. And for this, I considered Roger a candidate as a, secular, saint.

Wall-E too is a saint, but in a very different way. He is a hero of circumstance as well, but that just confuses matters. That is to say that while he is the person (or more accurately the intelligence) that is in the right place at the right time, making the right decisions which turns the human race around and saves the species. However that is not what makes him a saint in a Christian sense. What, for me, makes me consider Wall-E a portrayal of a saint is that seems to me connects more with some of the real Christian Saints. Wall-E is filled, seemingly ontologically, of a transforming grace. Characters in this movie, and while its been a while since I’ve seen it but I think this includes all of them except perhaps our villain(s), are transformed by Wall-E. You can identify (and likely they would be able as well) the change in them catalyzed by Wall-E. You can identify their character development with a watermark, identified by a ‘before-I-met Wall-E” person vs the “after-I-met Wall-E” person. An example of this might be the incendental contact he makes with one of the ship dwellers in passing who shortly thereafter finds himself noticing and interacting differently with his neighbor.

And this I think is a identifying difference between my perception of this sort of secular and sacred saint. The secular saint by effort and calling effects change in people in a conscious fashion. This particular sacred saint on the other hand, unintentionally awakens a fullness (or perhaps in a lest loaded “Eastern Christian term, a turning to their purpose) in those he contacts.

Alternatives to Cartesian

Rene Descartes enshrined that which is not termed a Cartesian view of ontology when he wrote, cogito ergo sum. However, somewhere recently I read that the earlier Greek (possibly neo-Platonic) viewpoint would have rejected this notion. That I think (cogito) in this case doesn’t imply my existence, but instead the converse. That I think, implies the existence of those very thoughts. That is our intellection and thoughts have a more solid case for being, then do we. In a modern context, blogging itself is in some ways a affirmation of that idea. We exchange ideas and our “existence” in the “blogging realm” owes itself to cogitation and reflection on ideas.

However, we might also consider this in the context of the ideas suggested in last night’s essay, in which three (perhaps in the comments a fourth) ideas of how we consider the ego to be sustained, memory, our physical being, or our relationship with others. This final alternative notion of self, that ego/self exists and only takes meaning in the context of its defining relationships with the other, it seems that this final notion other is consonant with the idea that the realm of idea has a primary claim to existence over self. That is it is the re-cognition of ourselves that yields the reality or our person. The quantum mechanical relationship between the observer, the observed and the collapse of the wave function is not understood in a lot of fundamental ways even today, 100 years after quantum mechanics became the dominant theory of our best descriptions of nature. Yet the dependence between observer and the observed is one which doesn’t depend on cloud chambers or transistors to make itself known.

to be continued …

What does “I” mean?

One of the critical points of disagreement in the abortion divide is notions of personhood. So it seems one interesting thing to examine might be what comprises notions and ideas of personhood and on what basis these ideas are founded.

There are role based notions of personhood. I’m told that in Bali for example, your personality (and in fact your name) is dictated by the order of birth. You are “first son”, or “third daughter” a name which indicates who you are. In Rome the notions of personhood and identification of a person was primarily a legal concept. Your status of citizenship, your membership in guilds and other associations defined your legal notions of personhood. But legal and definitions of personhood based on birthplace or occupation are foreign to members of the modern western world.

One of the common notions of self is based on memory, that is you are the sum of your memories and that your memory is the basis of your continuing notion of self. But this is incomplete and insufficient. If, in some speculative fiction, a persons memories are erased we still think of them as the same person, just that they being the person whom they are is now that person sans memory. That is, the memory did not define self. Similarly if, one person’s “memories” in a scenario such as the Total Recall movie were taken and transplanted into another person … that other person would not thereby “be” identified as the original person. We have a common notion that these to persons are in fact distinct. Memory it seems does not define person. Another example that comes to mind is Latro in the Gene Wolf novels whom awakes each and every morning with no memory of his past. How is “self” or concept of ego considered for someone like him.

Organic identity as well does not define person. Again in speculative fiction not just modern science fiction, there are ideas of a person being transformed into something else. He becomes the ghost in a machine (modern computer or whatnot) or earlier works in which his self is moved to another person, animal, or magical animate object. If the ego, the “I”, can be radically transmuted and that memory of whom I am is not self either … what is the constituent thing which identifies self?

One suggestion, given by the early 4th and 5th century Eastern church, expanded by the 8th century theologian St. Maximus, and put into modern context by  and John Zizioulas is that personhood and self are defined relationally. That your continuity of self and in fact your very notions of self are defined only in relation to “Other”. If we refer to the above identification of self through radical transformations, we recall from those stories that the validation of self past the transforming event is that one recovers and is recognized via re-establishing and restoration of those connections with those others with whom one was formerly connected.

Ethics and the State

In Genesis, 18:22-33 the Lord and Abraham have a conversation of a political nature:

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

One of the things which the author of this passage is relating, succinctly, is that political ethics are not exactly the same as personal ethics. The dialogue does not run down to “Suppose there is one there”, the reason for that is that in politics there it is not possible ethics are a muddier thing than in personal interactions. War, for example, can be just, justly executed, and be necessary that is “a fighting of the good fight” and at the same time innocents will as with any other war, die. It is not that the deaths of those innocent is “good”, but that in execution of one thing, which is necessary and good (the war), innocents will die, which in an of itself does not make the war “not good” or necessary.

Continue reading →

On Your “Personal Jesus”

One of the common notions of this age, especially as compared to others in the past, is the supremacy of the individual. That is to say, that notion that oneself is the final and best arbiter of what is best for oneself is dominant. Many if not most of our community has sufficient ignorance of history and the changes in culture that have occurred in the past century or two that by and large there is rampant ignorance that this is in fact a radical departure from the past. While it is a common trite saying that those who forget the past, are doomed to repeat it. It is also the case that those who forget the past can’t understand which choices they make are better or worse than those of prior ages. One might suggest that those who are unaware of the past, will believe anything they do as better than before, alas without any knowledge of whether that is indeed the case or not.
Continue reading →

Mr Obama Has An Idea
And It Might Be Best Described As Evil

Rights are a very confusing notion. It seems to me there are two possibilities regarding Mr Obama’s recent claim that “health care is a right.” Either he means something completely different by “right” than I might understand it to mean (which is to say not a common notion of what is casually meant by “a right”) or he should not get anybody’s vote because he’s, well, insane. Bill Whittle, former democrat, at NRO puts this one perspective:

Well, back in the day, we would simply say that a right has legal authority — it’s in the Constitution and therefore it’s a not just a right, it’s a birthright. So why shouldn’t we amend the Constitution to include the rights to health care, food, housing, education — all the rest? What’s the difference between the rights we have and the “rights” Obama wants to give us?

Simply this: Constitutional rights protect us from things: intimidation, illegal search and seizure, self-incrimination, and so on. The revolutionary idea of our Founding Fathers was that people had a God-given right to live as they saw fit. Our constitutional rights protect us from the power of government.

The Declaration states that the “rights we hold to be self-evident” (and perhaps granted by Nature’s God) where Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Happiness almost certainly mean for Jefferson, Adams and Franklin to be the Aristotelian eudomonia (definition #2 at the link). Rights for our founders are emphatically not consumables that the government should provide for us.

There are two essential problems with Mr Obama’s (insane?) claim that health care is a “right”. The first is illustrated above, and that it is not a right as normally thought. The notion that health care is a fundamental right to which every person is entitled is radical policy of redistribution at best. The second problem with the idea of healthcare as thing which government can cure is that it’s wrong! Continue reading →

On God and Man in Society

At the basis of much of the debate which goes on the subtext at which we worry was highlighted in a little book. Then Cardinal Ratzinger and philosopher Jurgen Habermas debated the following question:

Does the free secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whether the 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 dependent on ethical traditions of a local nature.

I wrote of that here (check it out, a few interesting quotes from the book The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion are included). Herr Habermas (here I diverge from my Mr/Mrs/Ms nomenclature as a reference merely to his Deutsche origins) argues (of course) the affirmative and Fr Ratzinger the latter.

Fr Ratzinger notes that there are pathologies of religion which are quite dangerous. It is this in fact which the atheist apologists over emphasize often and key upon, most recently JA noted “zeal” identified particular religious problem of importance [ed: modified see comment], setting aside for some reason that other ideological zeals have been at the root cause of most of the 20th centuries mass killings. However, this misses the point. The vast majority of both the faithful and the secular are quite non-violent. The question isn’t about the fringes, although those should not be ignored, but the central question is can society function without without religious ties binding it? Charles Taylor in the book A Secular Age noted the important and central role the church had in the softening and civilizing of our social behavior over the last 600 years. Compare for example ordinary behavior by the elite between the 15th century (War of the Roses) and the Elizabethan 100 years later and then to the Victorian in the 19th. They are like night and day. The conventional wisdom was that this was driven by the Enlightenment and the secular (reason-based) move. But that doesn’t pan out to a careful examination. There was no “enlightenment” occuring in the 15th century that gave rise to the vast differences seen in that period.

But the question of whether a large scale national enterprise can hold together its society in the absence of any faith is unresolved. The French reformers of the 19th century attempting to craft a brave new world thought that the rites and rituals of the religious world gave continuity and permanence to daily life that a purely materialist secular world could not. They attempted to craft similar rituals to replace them, but as Mark Twain noted when his wife attempted using off-color language that “she’d had the notes but didn’t make music.” That is, they tried to make rituals but they, much like Mr Obama with his “clinging to guns and God” remarks, didn’t have the connection to the common man that was need to make music (rite/rituals) that the common man wanted to hear.

The demographic crises in mainly secular Western Europe, which afflicts our (secular) subcultures in the States, is not affecting the non-secular societies world wide. One of the commonalities in secular points of view that might be important to this question is how the secular culture promotes a radical individualism … and how that individualism is not very conducive to the sacrifices and commitment required of marriage and family. Without marriage and family raised as a linchpin or centerpiece of ones society, the same demographic crises will occur. People will go their individual ways and eschew raising families. Birth rates will drop and a generation or two later … the Piper will have to be paid for that particular indulgence.

So, to focus the question a little further, I might restate Herr Habermas’ eloquent question as:

Can the free secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whether the democratic constitutional state in the absence of religion eschew radical individualism and recall the necessary importance of stable marriage and family.

So if you disagree, and think that a secular society can in fact put family and children ahead of ego … tell me why and where are the clues that point to that notion.

Two Arguments in the Abortion Mix

Continuing to chew the abortion issue with some amiable conversation partners, Mr Boonton suggests that there is a significant problem for the pro-life communities seeming disregard and nonchalance over the fact that a significant fraction of conceptions result in no implantation (naturally) and that even after implantation spontaneous abortion remains a possibility in a significant fraction of pregnancies. Often the parents are unaware that they have conceived and a essentially symptomless termination of the pregnancy occurrs. He suggests that money well spent on natal care of ailing infants is rightly not diverted to research and development to halt this, apparent, outrage … if after all if early fetal life is worth “the same as an adult (or infant)” then not wanting to halt this outrage is … outrageous (or hypocritical).

However, consider for a moment what would have to transpire for such occurrences to be avoided. First of all it would have to be detected. So sexual intercourse must move from a transporting event, sacramental, that meeting of body and soul of which the poets and artists aspire to encircle … to a medical endeavor. To be done, tested, and verified and diagnosed. To be rushed to the auspices of technology and medicine to arrange, order, and judge. In this rush, dignity and humanity goes to the wayside. And that loss is crucial and devastating. If the one of the purposes of government is to secure happiness … and happiness is to be found in the perfection of virtue … then the dignity of man is clearly essential. That for one is surely an important reason that one doesn’t seek prevention of natures spontaneous abortions … that there is no way to prevent them and to maintain dignity.

The second issue raised was about privacy and the smallest society possible is that between a mother and her fetus. In my notions of pushing authority to the local communities it was suggested that most local of societies is to move the authority for an abortion to that between a mother and her unborn. Well, that doesn’t make sense, frankly. Unless the mother is living alone in desert solitude (and how then one might wonder did she get pregnant) a larger community will be affected by the decision to abort. Father, acquaintances, future children, parents, cousins, friends, and neighbors will all be affected by the decision to abort. Sex is not a private act. It affects the community surrounding them. Abortion as well is not “private.”

Jouvenel, as I noted just a few days ago, offers a fresh look at political theory. In doing so, he devastatingly critiqued the prevalent foundational theories of modern democracies that had been offered by Hobbes and Locke. His critique of Hobbes is relevant for the notion of the extreme individualism offered in the prior paragraph. Hobbes suggested an anthropological origin for power, that men gather together in society and yield some of the rights to the collective to allow the government collectively to protect and shield from circumstances, poetically noted as being a life that is “nasty, brutish, and short” outside of the collective society. However, Jouvenel notes that is anthropological rubbish. Men in the first societies didn’t do anything like that. What they did, of course, is to grant authority to one or a few in their tribal gatherings in whom they found qualities of leadership.

Likewise, there is no pregnant woman who exists in a society of self and fetus. For that matter the woman, her fetus, and her partner do not unless live in isolation outside of the rest of the society of men. That too is an anthropological fiction. A case study for those who ponder the nature of men absenting their thoughts from the reality of man.

UpdateEmbarrassing typo in the title fixed.

Because of Your Hardness of Heart

Jesus suggests that Moses and “the People” were given laws allowing abortion divorce because of their hardness of heart, or in modern jargen, because of the brokeness of the world. Or again in parlance of recent essays, the inability of people to cleave uniformly to shared community values.

Likewise abortion can be viewed the same way.

It might be noted that there are laws and regulations and customs regarding access to divorce.

A question arises … why is abortion not seen the same?

And to forestall one objection, that sex is a purely private affair and likewise abortion as a result of such private affairs are also naturally private, I’ll offer that those who think that live in a ivory towered vacuum. Sex is not private. Consider any small society of people. When two of members of any small social community begin sexual intercourse … it changes the group dynamic. It is a not purely private event or act and never has been. Likewise children, marriage and other such events and arrangements affect and are again not purely private.

Mr MacIntyre’s trenchant phrase “Dependent Rational Animals” springs yet again to mind.

Community and the Abortion Question

I’ve got a few loose threads running around. I’m going to pick a smaller one tonight. Last night I quoted Wendell Barry on the public and private nature of sex and the consequent dialog in our society which has lost its sense of community. And I think we should take seriously the notion of moving our discourse out of the conservative/liberal divide and center it around community. With that in mind (and another loose thread to nip) in this comment trail, commenter Boonton suggests that there is not good “pro-life” answer to:

A good question that ended up getting EO to ban a commentator was based on a hypothetical fire. You rush into a IV Fertilization clinic that is on fire. There happens to be a live baby in a crib crying. There is also a heavy 60 pound mini-freezer whose label says it contains 150 frozen fertilized eggs. There are only moments to spare and you can only carry one out. Which is it?

The initial response, which you can follow (but I’ll summarize) is that there is at least one problematic feature to this, that the IVF is problematic for many who hold pro-life positions, e.g., the Catholics. I suggested that one might make a problematic moral question in the context of an extermination/concentration camp, but that the different arguments might ignore a “Gordian solution” (in the case of saving IVF blastocysts its that IVF is problematic in the case of the camp … it is the mere existence of the camp). Mr Boonton leaped at an mistaken notion of what such a “camp moral quandary might be”, so before going further I’ll offer that as an aside before going on to the real point. In the context of a camp, a analogous moral question might be, you are in position to save either one child imprisoned in the camp or 5 (pick a number greater than 1) children of the guards … you know that tomorrow everyone in the camp will die. Whom do you save, the one child or the five? The one has had a recent life filled with horror, the others benefited from luxury not of their making but as a result of their parents choices (crimes) and (abuse of their) positions of power.

So the matter at hand with the asides finally set, err, aside, is that we want to discuss abortion in not in a “cold-blooded mechanical” fashion, but instead in the language of “respect, responsibility, sexual discipline, fidelity, or the practice of love.” Now we live in a culture which has been dominated by a particular (Christian-Greco-Roman) culture. What this means is that our narratives describing what comprises healthy community all involve a healthy helping of ethics which include a disavowal of abortion, and for now what that means for those of us in our culture is that abortion is a symptom of a breakdown of community. So, I’ll turn the tables back on the pro-choice crowd, how does abortion fit into your notion of healthy community? And if it doesn’t why is the question of pro-choice/pro-life on the table? For the question at hand isn’t one structuring law right, its recovering community.

Thinking of Her or …
Silencing the Lambs

One of the oft repeated criticisms from the left of the pro-life position is that it “doesn’t take the mother” into account. But the problem is abortion is the position that is truly “not thinking of the mother” or being humane towards her.

It’s odd how the position which says, no those material benefits, career, and so on that’salso depends on your moral view of the personhood of the fetus.

Christianity and Poverty: An Inverted Argument (Mr Myers Examined In Detail)

As noted in the introduction to this series, I’m blogging on two short works on Poverty, the first is Ched Myers The Biblical View of Sabbath Economics and the second is the 14th oration by St. Gregory of Nazianzus entitled “On Love for the Poor” (note I misquoted the title in the prior essay as well as Mr Myers first name). In this short essay, I’m going to attempt to precis the basic thrust of the two works. The current plan is follow this short summary with some critical assessments of the two works. The introduction was here, and the overview essay here.

Reading Mr Myers pamphlet is a little disconcerting. For that which he argues, that concern for the poor, charity, and turnings one heart and aspirations to God instead of the material transient world are all well known and established virtues in Christian living. This where he concludes, where he is driving and this conclusion is not wrong. But it must be admitted, that it is very rare to use the validity of a conclusion to justify an argument … and alas Mr Myers reasons and arguments are very very bad. Mr Myers, as noted in the introduction, follows a unusual hermeneutic for extracting meaning from Scripture. That is he views Scripture via a lens of economics … with a caveat on that description that one must note that his views of economics themselves are also somewhat unusual. Continue reading →

Entropy and Scripture: Random Thoughts

Yesterday, I was considering wherein lies the issue between ideas of evolution and Scripture. The Wonders of Oyarsa blogger suggested the reason concisely:

The problem is death – and I suppose one might connect it with entropy. The specific problem with evolution has to do with the chronology of the Genesis story – evolution talks of death as the vehicle of creation; Genesis connects it with the fall of man.

Life is an anti-entropic struggle, constantly consuming energy in order to continually push “disorder” outwards and the required order within. When that fails, we call it death. Evolution likewise is a entropic intensive method of gathering information. Scripture begins by connecting death with the fall of man and ends with Christ trampling death by death and conquering the same.

There are two ways to approach this, one might call the two approaches either, synthetic or biased. In the latter approach, one takes the point of view that one view or the other has an exclusive (or at least a dominant) view of the matter. Atheistic scientists and young earth creationists share this approach from an opposite side of the spectrum.

However, at the turn of the last century, and for a subsequent 20 or so years, Phyiscs struggled with an understanding of matter and light which seemed drawn into two “biased” camps, wave or particle. Which camp to find? It turned out the answer was, in some ways, both in a particularly interesting way.

The faithful believe that God has revealed himself and the nature of his creation, ourselves, and himself through two main sources. Scripture and revelation is one, that which is revealed in his creation is another.

St. Augustine and a not a small number of other theologians recognized the anti-entropic nature of the garden of Genesis 2-3. They additionally give the reality of the garden as something more than an allegory, if less than a literal historical place. Adam’s fall and exile in that sense placed him outside of the garden, into time, entropy, and the rest.

I leave this here, unfinished, for your comments with the intent to follow up. I feel like I’m on the verge of an insight here, but have tonight, failed to nail it down.

A Question for Henry

Mr Neufeld at Threads, offers a post on theology and evolution. He offers first that,

The weakness of the first option, in my view, is that evolution does have implications for theology. Mass extinctions don’t go well with the idea that God created the world, put it in the care of humanity, and expected humanity to exercise responsible dominion over it. I’m not saying the two notions can’t be reconciled, but one has to stop at thing, at the very least.

I’m not sure I agree with that. It comes back to the “does a dog have Buddha nature” (or perhaps another way to put it), does a dog have a soul? Do any animals, non-human, not imago dei have souls. If they don’t, then the questions or connundrum he raises is moot. The death of animals then, doesn’t really matter more than the splitting of a rock by lightning, erosion, ice, or earthquake. Only if mass exinction or the disappearence of species is attributed a moral dimension (and that it is bad) is this a conundrum.

If on the other hand, animals do have a spark of imago dei, and their death does indeed have a moral dimension (or possible the extinction of their kind), then the question becomes one of soteriology. Is there an implicit assumption here that God’s plan of salvation leaves the animal kingdom out, if indeed animal life has a moral/spiritual dimension? God’s universe is bound up in time, even if God is not. What is the particular problem that is raised that Stegosaurus had a million or so years in the sun but now is no longer?

The Two “A’s”: Abortion and Adoption

If, one were to take seriously (which is admittedly hard), the left’s seriousness about reducing abortion as in Mr Clinton’s (in)famous: safe, legal, and rare … there is the problem of adoption. [note: in the following I’m going to ignore the clear conundrum raised by the question unasked or unanswered by those to whom that phrase has meaning, which is if abortion is not problematic, then why is rare valued.]

Adoption is held as an mythological sign for the pro-choice crowd. Both asking, well if you pro-lifers are so serious about saving babies why aren’t y’all adopting. But, examining the adoption procedures in this country a little more carefully the answer becomes clear. Because the largely pro-choice crowd has raised immense barriers to adopting. Getting qualified for an adoption costs close to $20k for legal fees, home studies and the like. The question is … Why?

Well, one reason one might suggest is that because the parents of the child are giving up their moral and legal responsibilities toward the child, they cannot be depended upon to insure the quality and home for the child so the state must do that instead. But, at what cost? A great number of well qualified caring parents are excluded from the process because they lack the disposable income in order to jump through the states required adoption hoops.There is another conclusion to be drawn from the existence to high barriers to adoption. That is, that orphans and children needing adoption (in this country) are in fact rare. If the problem of excess orphans was actually acute, essential moral market forces would bring the barriers down. That they haven’t and that adoption agencies and their lawyers successfully continue to charge high prices for their services is

Actually another highly likely reason is that legislators setting guidelines for abortion (often) forget TANSTAAFL when they make their laws. What cost adding one more check, after all it might just save one kid from misery? Well, there is a cost. But it’s not apparent.

There is another conundrum present. The pro-choice crowd consistently paints abortion as easy, pregnancy as difficult, adoption as freely available (and a choice rarely chosen by the pro-life side).  However, that begs a question. If the reason that the high barriers to adoption exist are in fact that in giving up their responsibilities toward the child mean that the state do due dilligence in vetting the parent then that begs the question: Why does that at the same time exclude the state from exercising due diligence when a pregnant mom wants to terminate her child. Is she not as well, yeilding her moral and legal responsibilities toward her offspring as well?

On Mr Helms (and the Left)

I’m not a great student of recent politics, that is the politics of my lifetime, instead more of a casual observer or johnny come lately, in that my interest in politics is quite young. When I was in college and until just a few years ago, Politics was much like the weather, people talk about it, have opinions and all, but it really didn’t touch me (actually did far less than the weather) and the “little guy” of which I number have about as much effect on the weather as we do on federal politics. I am not well aware of the history of Mr Helms, nor have I walked a mile in his shoes nor understand how he thinks and sees the world. I don’t hate him, I don’t love him (any more than I would another stranger).

Mr Jessie Helms has died. Every single one of the liberal blogs I read have failed to say anything gracious (and some are definitely ungracious) at the passing of a man from this mortal coil. On reflection over their attitude on his passing, I find it a good thing that I hold no American and very few foreigners in a similar regard as the beheld Mr Helms. To reiterarate:

There is no American and very few foreign nationals whose death I would celebrate.

As they did today.  I don’t hate as they hate, it seems. I can think of very few men on whose deminse I would react in a similar fashion. I think I had little good to say about the deceased when Mr Hussein and Mr Arafat died.  It seems to me, if you are trying to rid the world of hatred and bigotry, one must start with oneself. In our liturgy, we repeat and strive to uphold each week, these words before the anaphora (Eucharist):

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first….

The confession/statement goes on, but the important phrase (for this discussion) is emphasized. This does not mean I am a worse sinner than Mr Hussein, Josef Stailn, or perhaps Mr Helms. It does mean however, I am the first person whose sins are my concern. It is not for me to address the “other’s” sins while mine are lying plain before me. And … if you (on the left) hate Mr Helms, Mr Bush, or Mr Cheney then that sin is far more important to you to address than anything that those men have done or do that you find unrighteous. And no, I don’t think that to others your sin of hatred is being compared or worse then perception of the sins of those men whom you hate. What I am suggesting is that it is more important for you to address than the other.