Wednesday, March 14, 2007
…Not surprisingly, lotteries direct their most aggressive advertising at their best customers- the working class, minorities, and the poor.
…Massachusetts, with the highest grossing per capita lottery sales in the country, offers stark evidence of the blue-collar bias. A 1997 series in the Boston Globe found that Chelsea, one of the poorest towns in the state, has one lottery agent for every 363 residents; upscale Wellesley, by contrast, has one agent for every 3,063 residents. In Massachusetts, as elsewhere, this ‘painless’ alternative to taxation is a sharply regressive way of raising revenue. Residents of Chelsea spent a staggering $915 oer capita on lottery tickets last year, almost 8 percent of their income. Residents of Lincoln, an affluent suburb, spent only $30 per person, one tenth of 1 percent of their income.
…With states hooked on the money, they have no choice but to continue to bombard their citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones, with a message at odds with the ethic of work, sacrifice and moral responsibility that sustains democratic life. This civic corruption is the gravest harm that lotteries bring. It degrades the public realm by casting the government as the purveyor of a perverse civic education. To keep the money flowing, state governments across America must now use their authority and influence not to cultivate civic virtue but to peddle false hope. They must persuade their citizens that with a little luck they can escape the world of work to which only misfortune consigns them.”
-Michael J. Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics, “Against State Lotteries”, pgs. 70-72.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
'doing for them, we want to 'be with them.' The particular suffering of the person who is mentally handicapped, as of all marginal people, is a feeling of being excluded, worthless and unloved. It is through everyday life in a community and the love that must be incarnate in this, that handicapped people can begin to discover that they have value, that they are loved and so lovable.' (Vanier 1979, 3)
Such a community both makes time and takes time." -Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, p. 162.
I am attracted to this section of Hauerwas especially by his stress on focus as a community and not just as individuals on the great good of reaching thos marginalized by our society. "Talk is cheap, brother", I feel some of you say sometimes. There is a great need in Baltimore and here in DC, a great crying need. There is a good work to do and in the doing it I hope we might find the focus together which increasingly humbles us as Hauerwas describes. I don't think that community in all cases is necessary for humility. It seems that many prophets had to go without. But maybe I am wrong. Certainly to be a prophet of God you've got to be humble. Think of the company they keep. I am thinking of the focus implied here in conjunction with something I read from Michael Sandel about commercials in public classrooms:
"But, even if corporate sponsors supplied objective teaching tools of impeccable quality, commercial advertising would still be a pernicious presence in the classroom because it undermines the purposes for which the school exists. Advertising encourages people to want things and to satisfy their desires: education encourages people to reflect on their desires, to restrain or to elevate them. The purpose of advertising is to recruit consumers; the purpose of public schools is to cultivate citizens." Public Philosophy, p. 75.
Sandel argues in a way that I find persuasive that the purpose for which the schools exist is undermined by the commercials in the classroom and the manifold little compromises. I remember seeing the kids subjected by the arm of the State to captive commerical watching when I was a substitute teacher so that the schools could have free TVs for every room. I knew something was deeply disturbing and outrageous about this but I couldn't articulate it very well at the time. It seems that the time has come for us to learn to articulate just what is wrong with this kine of excessive encroachment. Jesus said we should watch and pray so that the cares of this world and the love of it do not snuff out our faith. We should ask what is our purpose as a church for existing and see that our focus is increased and not drawn away into the world's manifold distractions whether commercial or ascetic.
Monday, March 12, 2007
"This is true both literally and figuratively: The dominant tendency of our age is the breaking of faith and the making of divisions among things that once were joined. This story obviously must be told by somebody...But how has it been told, and how ought it to be told?...The story can be told in a way that clarifies, that makes imaginable and compassionable, the suffering and the costs; or it can be told in a way that seems to grant an easy permission and absolution to adultery and divorce. (Berry 2000, 133-34)." - from Life is A Miracle.
By the way, I have about about four Wendell Berry books including this one. One I put in my church library that was recommended by the emergent village reading list. I thought it very good with excellent things to say about Christians and the environment and the economy and in supporting local farms,etc. and overall a hardy and wholesome contribution toward a good turn in the road that I hope we will all have contributed to in the end when all is said and done.
Someone else I think was something of a prophet in terms of one with deep perception of the signs of the time was the poet and literary critic of the late Victorian era, Matthew Arnold. A line which seemed to capture something of the same thing to which Berry is referring to in the quote above is taken from his poem "To Marguerite," or at least it struck me that way when I read it:
"Or if not quite alone, yet they
Which touch thee are unmating things-
...Of happier men!- for they, at least,
Have dream'd two human hearts might blend
In one, and were through faith released
From isolation without end..."
Bummer. Arnold was in the processing of "losing his religion" so he didn't have for instance the strength of my friend Isaac who remains strong spirited even in bodily weakness and with the prospect of death. But what I was focusing on is not so much Arnold's melancholy merely but what it evoked at least in me of a sense of the character of the age, an adulterous age that finds it hard to even conceive of the desirabilty of lifelong, conjugal love.The prevailing philosophy has obscured the good and we need good philosophy to help articulate the case for everlasting love. But more than that we need the blood of Christ and our faithful Lord to lean upon along the Way.
Solzhenitsyn, Arch-Enemy of Totalitarianism, Attacked Out of Shallow and Transparent Adherence to Anti-Telos World Blindness
"Solzhenitsyn reiterated a claim that was central to his controversial commencement address at Harvard University in 1978: “if there are neither true or false judgments, man is no longer held [accountable] for anything. Without universal foundations, morality is not possible.” For this, as much as for his defense of a humane and self-limiting Russian patriotism, the author of The Gulag Archipelago, the most powerful and sustained critique of totalitarianism ever written, was denounced as an enemy of liberty and the spiritual architect of a new authoritarianism."
[This seems to hit on a central point of struggle between the teleological and the anti-telos worldviews. The charge of authoritarianism and coercionism seem to be aimed at each other, from both sides. The liberal voluntarist position which emphasizes self-creation and freedom from moral limits cries “theocracy!” when the older tradition in politics is urged, one which included in its politics the aim of instilling in its citizens civic virtues necessary for self-government. This seems to me the temporary victory of the anti-telos, Nietzschean perspective.]
"As I argued in a 2004 article in First Things, “Traducing Solzhenitsyn,” these tendentious assaults helped shape a “new consensus” about Solzhenitsyn. Moreover, this consensus has been remarkably resistant to correction on the basis of a balanced critical analysis of what Solzhenitsyn actually says in his writings. …
Which makes it all the stranger that the review of the book in the March 9 issue of the Times Literary Supplement could have appeared in Syntaxis thirty years ago.
Written by the émigré novelist Zinovy Zinik, the review recycles all the same tired charges of “stale traditionalism” in literature and politics, authoritarianism, and neo-Stalinist rhetoric—as if the old fights have to be re-fought one more bloody time. But this time they are presented without deep conviction and with plenty of internal evidence that contradicts the author’s claims.
Thus Zinik readily concedes that Solzhenitsyn a literary innovator, but somehow a “stale traditionalist” anyway. It would be “preposterous,” he says, to call Solzhenitsyn an anti-Semite, though he goes on to insinuate it anyway. Solzhenitsyn has given support to the most “reactionary” elements in Russian politics and literature, Zinik insists—even while noting Solzhenitsyn’s continuing denunciations of the “maladies of Russian nationalism” and his unflagging opposition to the Red-Brown coalition of unrepentant communists and racialist nationalists.
In his only reference to the actual contents of the Reader, Zinik concedes the accuracy of the portrait of Solzhenitsyn’s views found in our “comprehensive preface” and “informative introductions to each part” of the volume. He admits that the Solzhenitsyn who emerges from the book is a “moderate conservative, a religious but tolerant old-fashioned thinker.”
But it turns out that none of this is of any importance. Instead of analyzing Solzhenitsyn as a writer, historian, and moral philosopher, Zinik issues a thunderous, if a rather passé, attack on a man whose views are disqualified by his moralizing, “theocratic” character.
Zinik can assert all this only by saying nothing, absolutely nothing, about the actual contents of the seven-hundred-page book. If he had to refer to real texts he would have to concede that Solzhenitsyn is a critic of “stale traditionalism” in both politics and literature. As Solzhenitsyn wrote in his 1993 “Playing Upon the Strings of Emptiness,” the task of a “healthy conservatism” is to remain “equally sensitive to the old and to the new, to venerable and worthy traditions, and to the freedom to explore, without which no future can ever be born.” Zinik sees no need to consult texts since he believes Solzhenitsyn has been excommunicated from civil discussion by his unwillingness to confuse human freedom—an inestimable good—with the tenants of relativistic ideology.
Zinik ends his review by insinuating that Solzhenitsyn is a prisoner in an authoritarian Russia of his own making (although once again he concedes—quite rightly— that Solzhenitsyn’s “most cherished” political idea is that of “saving Russia by strengthening the independence of local government, Swiss-style”).
In truth, Solzhenitsyn remains—as he has been for decades now—a thoughtful and passionate advocate of “repentance and self-limitation,” a critic of the “lie” in all its forms, an advocate of what he calls a “clean, loving, constructive Patriotism” as opposed to a radically nationalist bent” that “elevates one’s nationality above a humble stance toward heaven.” In contrast to the consensus that increasingly dominates in both liberal and conservative circles in the West, Solzhenitsyn saw Russia in the 1990s—with its criminal corruption, unholy alliance of oligarchs and unrepentant communists, its betrayal of the rule of law and a genuine market economy in the name of a misguided “market ideology”—as a new “Time of Troubles” for his beloved homeland. He has a balanced view of Russia today in no small part because he does not identify the 1990s as a period of true democratic reforms as so many people mistakenly do in the West. "
Sunday, March 11, 2007
But the cosmopolitan vision is wrong to suggest that we can restore self-government simply by pushing sovereignty and citizenship upward. The hope for self-government today lies not in relocating sovereignty to but in dispersing it. The most promising alternative to the sovereign state is not a cosmopolitan community based on the solidarity of humankind but a multiplicity of communities and political bodies- some more extensive than nations and some less- among which sovereignty is diffused. Only a politics that disperses sovereignty both upward and downward can combine the power required to rival global market forces with the differentiation required of a public life that hopes to inspire the allegiance of its citizens.
In some places dispersing sovereignty may entail according greater cultural and political autonomy to subnational communities- such as Catalans and Kurds, Scots and Quebecois- even while strengthening and democratizing the European Union and other transnational structures. Arrangements like these may avoid the strife that arises when state sovereignty is an all-or-nothing affair. In the United States which never was a nation-state in the European sense, proliferating sites of political engagement may take a different form. America was born of the conviction that sovereignty need not reside in a single place. From the start the Constitution divided power among branches and levels of government. Over time, however, we too have pushed sovereignty and citizenship upward in the direction of the nation.
The nationalizing of American political life occurred largely in response to industrial capitalism. The consolidation of economic power called forth the consolidation of political power. Present-day conservatives who rail against big government often ignore this fact. They wrongly assume that rolling back the power of the national government would liberate individuals to pursue their own ends, instead of leaving them at the mercy of economic forces…The American welfare state is politically vulnerable because it does not rest on a sense of national community adequate to its purpose….
…A more promising basis for a democratic politics that reaches beyond nations is a revitalized civic life nourished in the more particular communities we inhabit. In the age of NAFTA the politics of neighborhood matters more, not less. People will not pledge allegiance to vast and distant entities, whatever their importance, unless those institutions are somehow connected to political arrangements that reflect the identity of the participants.” –Michael Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics, “America’s Search for a Public Philosophy”, p. 30-33.
Monday, March 05, 2007
-Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Problem 1, (p. 66).
I found this passage very resonant but I am afraid it will be more difficult for others taken out of its context. What I understand him to be saying is along these lines: the universal, which includes apprehension of morals- universal ethics- is apprehendable to the non-Christian, is approachable through high-minded application of one's heart and soul to the universal. It is the realm of for instance Aristotle's ethics ( such as that a person should not be held responsible for something which is beyond their power to effect) and Kant's logical reformulation of the golden rule to "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
Kierkegaard perceives that faith is something beyond adherence to these universal rules. It seems to me he is hitting upon something utterly essential. The individual becomes elevated above the universal law in the faith of Abraham. The personal relationship of the particular to God subordinates the universal to the particular. From the logical apprehension of laws, which it may be said I think somewhat accurately that the Greeks to some extent explored and elaborated to a much greater extent than the Hebrews, there is a transition to something far greater in the Hebrews, in Abraham and his progeny.
But it is only by way of the universal laws. On the one side there is inarticulation of the natural laws, the blindness and opposition to what may be known from what is made. But there is also the apprehension of the natural laws that is possible, the nobility and human kindness and justice which are possible. It is our ability to apprehend these laws which makes us all culpable, I think. But these laws are not dependent on hearing what the Bible says regarding them. They are accessible to everyone. Aristotle sought to systematize these as have many others. The Golden Rule is found in many disparate religious texts of the world and in wise-men such as Confucius. As C.S. Lewis aptly says:
“Did Christian Ethics really enter the world as a novelty, a new peculiar set of commands, to which man could be in the strict sense converted ?... The convert accepted forgiveness of sins. But of sins against what Law? Some new law promulgated by the Christians? But that is nonsensical. It would be the mockery of a tyrant to forgive a man for doing what had never been forbidden until the very moment at which the forgiveness was announced. The idea (at least in its grossest and most popular form) that Christianity brought a new ethical code into the world is a grave error...It is far from my intention to deny that we find in Christian ethics a deepening, an internalization, a few changes of emphasis, in the moral code. But only a serious ignorance of Jewish and Pagan culture would lead anyone to the conclusion that it is a radically new thing. Essentially, Christianity is not the promulgation of a moral discovery. It is addressed only to penitents, only to those who admit their disobedience to the known moral law... A Christian who understands his own religion laughs when unbelievers expect to trouble him by the assertion that Jesus uttered no command which had not been anticipated by the Rabbis- few, indeed, which cannot be paralleled in classical, ancient Egyptian, Ninevite, Babylonian, or Chinese texts. We have long recognized that truth with rejoicing. Our faith is not pinned on a crank.”
But Abrahamic faith leaps beyond these universal laws into something greater which does not oppose these God made laws (but may oppose man made systems of apprehending these laws which are bound to be mere sketches and bound to be inaccurate) but is superior because it is personal, particular, scandalous. It is scandalous that Abraham goes to sacrifice his son at the bequest of God. It seems a subversion of these universal ethics. Political figures cannot resort to such a principle to mediate arguments and controversies because as Kierkegaard remarks mediation is only carried out through appeal to these universals. But in Abrahamic faith, God comes near.
This seems to me to apply to our discussion of religionless Christianity and the atonement. I think a lot of the way one goes on these topics hinges on what we make of good and evil and the universal ability to apprehend these. If it is true that all men have resort to the universal we should act as if they do and consider that Nietzsche and others who subvert the universal moral law are only clouds on that universal moral law which every man and woman in some way or another has apprehended enough that they knowif they reflect on themselves that they are guilty though in a much more genral sense, in one perhaps devoid of a Christian theology and context. Guilt and shame in this sense should not be understood as referring to something which does not exist outside of a religious context. Men know they're guilty.
Regarding atonement, it relates to the mysteries of mankind's heart. It illumines the grave of their hearts, piercing the psychology and explicating to them their relation to the world which God made and their warped-ness in relation too and the resolution to this disfigurement in the love of God.
Friday, March 02, 2007
Modern moral philosophy has in general been blind to the complementary character of narrative and theory both in moral enquiry and in the moral life itself...Is there any way in which one of these rivals might prevail over the others? One possible answer was supplied by Dante: that narrative prevails over its rival which is able to include its rivals within it, not only to retell their stories as episodes within its story, but to tell the story of the telling of their stories as such episodes...-Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopedia, Genealogy and Tradition, pg. 80, 81.
This stuck with me long after I read it and then he returned to explain this at greater length later on. I think this explains with some progressive incision how the body of Christ is at least intellectually to proceed--- hmm, at least the church in the range that I have a working or recuperable to working awareness of.
I have heard references to biblical scholarship which argues that the Genesis account contains within it marks of awareness of other rival accounts and also a picture of victory over these accounts...Surely we must be careful but not shrunk to thoughtless timidity in dealing with such questions but there is something provocative in that and I wonder if there is not the same kind of struggle going on now. Really, I do more than wonder. I am quite aware of rival cosmological worldviews, rival all encompassing philosophies and belief systems. There is a struggle beyond questions of literal readings of the Genesis account and whether evolution accounts for the development of all biological life that goes back and forward to who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Atheistic philosophical materialist philosophers such as Daniel Dennett seem to me often at times to simply be working out that narrative, in a kind of priestly role. They are explaining and synthesizing according to their accepted doctrine including what they take science to be. Richard Dawkins is also doing the same kind of thing, creating a philsophical and science based narrative...I say science based because I believe his science his generally good from what I can tell but the tale he weaves, "the anscestor's tale" I think is something all together different, is following cosmological doctrines with a lineage traceable to some extent back to the ancient philsophers and/or poets, Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius. These later especially have an interesting history and influence in modern times but I don't mean to get into that. My only point in mentioning them is to say that they provided principles outlines for a worldview that persists and reoccurs today---that given inifinite time and the clashing of atoms every possible combination would occur including us and that the cosmos is all there was, all there is and all there ever will be, and that religion is the source of disturbance in the world and we should work toward a mental psychologlical state called ataraxia where we are untroubled and soothed by the cold meaninglessness of life and the annihilation that death brings (Epicurus provided psychological kinds of practical meditations to help his adherents embrace their imminent annihilation). There is a rival worldview. But it is not merely a story but the true story, one that God writes, and we can feel the pen on our hearts in Christ Jesus, so that the rival stories must be overcome, the true story must be illuminated. "Good philosophy must exist if for no other reason to answer bad philosophy."
Thursday, March 01, 2007
“Choice” my foot: If the
new bill to legalize assisted suicide in California (A.B. 374) becomes law,
Catholic nursing homes will be legally required to permit assisted suicide to be
committed within their premises, even though doing so would be a profound
violation of Catholic moral teaching. In-patient hospice facilities would be
similarly coerced, despite assisted suicide being a direct affront to the
hospice philosophy and the medical standards under which programs operate. Other
California medical facilities and group homes could also be forced to comply.
Only acute-care hospitals escape the proposed tyrannical duty to cooperate in
ending patients’ lives.
It seems like in the end no dissent is brooked. You cannot stand on the sidelines of a sacrificial cult and merely refuse to participate and expect that you will remain unmolested in tolerance. The subversion of telos, of that view that things were made for ends given them by God, will leave no neutral ground for those who witness with the earth to that telos. The blood cries out. It is only silenced by repentance or more blood.
Perhaps you have heard of the Al-Qa'ida and other radical Muslims attacking Christian charities abroad, far away, in Africa. But look homeward, angel, the same principle, the same power in different forms, in different garbs, is at work, disbanding orphanages, requiring all doctors to give their moral assent to abortion, and now attacking faith-based hospitals in what could turn out to be a much more insidious way than the bombing of a charity administration building.
Am I being extreme in referring to a sacrificial cult? Am I being extremist to think in terms of there being a sacrificial cult which delivers up nascent human life and aged human life and sickly or handicapped human life to be slain for the benefit, for the well being, for the fortune casting anticipations of the healthiest, the coolest, the most in, even the most "counterculturally" in? Am I being nonsensical in speaking of a broadly secular world as conforming to form of a sacrificial cult? Let me reference the work of Rene Girard here on the scapegoaing mechanisms and sacrificial systems of the world.
7198 (b): No professional organization or association, or heath care provider,
may subject a person to censure, discipline, suspension, loss of license, loss
of privileges, loss of membership, or other penalty for participating or
refusing to participate in good faith compliance with this chapter. (My
Here’s the sneaky part: Subsection (e) permits acute-care
hospitals to refuse to permit assisted suicide in the facility.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a general acute care hospital, as
defined in subdivision (a) of Section 1250, may prohibit a licensed physician
from carrying out a patient’s request under this chapter on the premises of the
hospital if the hospital has notified the licensed physician of its policy
regarding this chapter.
Under 1250 (a), an acute-care hospital is defined as
“a health facility having a duly constituted governing body with overall
administrative and professional responsibility and an organized medical staff
that provides 24-hour inpatient care, including the following basic services:
medical, nursing, surgical, anesthesia, laboratory, radiology, pharmacy, and
dietary services.” Thus, nursing homes, hospices, and other such facilities
would not qualify for the exemption provided acute-care hospitals under 7198
(e), since they do not have laboratories or pharmacies on-site, provide surgical
medical services, etc.
By explicitly identifying acute-care hospitals as the
only facilities where assisted suicides can be prevented from taking place
on-site, the legislation must be construed to require that all other health-care
facilities cooperate with assisted suicide—whether or not they have religious,
moral, or philosophical objections. Nor could these facilities sanction or
discipline staff doctors or other personnel who agree to participate in on-site
assisted suicides of patients.
If A.B. 374 becomes law, Catholic and other
religiously oriented nursing homes will be forced to choose between shutting
down, selling, or cooperating in assisted suicide. That this could cause untold
misery for thousands of helpless sick and elderly people matters to its authors
not a whit. The culture of death brooks no dissent.
The media are making a pretty big splash about a New England Journal of Medicine
study, which measured doctors' willingness to refuse
desired services if it violated their personal moral codes. From the story:
"Based on the findings, the researchers estimate that more than 40 million
Americans may be seeing physicians who do not believe that they are obligated to
disclose information about legal treatments the doctor objects to, and 100
million have doctors who do not feel the need to refer patients to another
provider."The focus, of course, was on doctors who hold what are labeled
conservative beliefs, e.g., abortion, contraception, etc. And there is a pretty
strong move underway to compel medical professionals (including pharmacists) to
perform these services at the risk of losing their jobs or licenses to
[There are intelligent ways to address some of the issues and Wesley Smith gives some good practical decisions that might at least temporarily address differences in the rest of this post I quote from above. However, it seems to me that there is mixture in the making for violent confrontation but the side that truly values life will prefer to be the victim rather than sacrifice other human beings to affirm the perogative of their choice.]
See also regarding